Artist envisions turning fake eye into bionic eye-cam

San Francisco artist wants to replace her artificial eye with a camera as part of an "experiment in wearable technology."

Tanya Vlach wants to turn her artificial eye into a bionic eye. Jonathan James

Three years after losing her left eye in a car accident, San Franciscan Tanya Vlach wants to make her artificial eye more useful: She's planning to put a video camera in her eye socket with the goal of having a bionic eye.

Asked in an e-mail what her inspiration is, Vlach wrote:

The Bionic Woman and maybe Bladerunner! Ever since I lost my eye I would fantasize about having a bionic eye. So I did research and I realized that as technology becomes increasingly smaller it seemed doable to engineer a miniature video camera small enough to put inside my acrylic prosthetic. And then finally I would have a device as close to an eye as I could get. Also, I love photography and video, this would be a true P.O.V (point of view) perspective.

Vlach, a 35-year-old artist and producer, is just getting started with her project and doesn't yet have a technology developer yet. She's actively seeking help with engineering, as well as funding.

Work is already under way in various places that could serve as a starting point for Vlach. For instance, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle have created a contact lens that contains an electronic circuit and LEDs. And scientists at University of Illinois and Northwestern University, meanwhile, have developed what could be a precursor to a bionic eye, though it's unclear whether that eye has quite the Web functionality that Vlach is seeking. There's also work being done in Boston on embedding chips behind the retina.

Tanya Vlach Jonathan James

In her blog, "one-eyed," Vlach discusses the technical aspects of what she hopes to achieve with her "experiment in wearable technology, cybernetics, and perception."

"I am attempting to recreate my eye with the help of a miniature camera implant in my prosthetic /artificial eye," she writes. "While my prosthetic is an excellent aesthetic replacement, I am interested in capitalizing on the current advancement of technology to enhance the abilities of my prosthesis for an augmented reality."

From her research into miniature video cameras, Vlach lists what seems like an ambitious list of specifications for her technologically advanced artificial eye: DVR capability, MPEG recording, built-in SD mini card slot, 4 GB SD mini card, mini-AV out, Firewire or USB drive, optical 3X, remote trigger, Bluetooth, and inductors (Firewire/USB, power source).

Beyond that, Vlach reckons that the eye technology could even incorporate wireless charging, allow the pupil to dilate and constrict as light changes, and use blinking to take still photos, zoom, focus, and turn on and off.

She's currently working on a science fiction screenplay and has several ideas for the technology, including making a documentary, broadcasting an online "lifecast," and doing art installations.

Since she published the post about a week ago she has received up to 150 e-mails and "some very promising suggestions." She's still poring through all of them, she says.

Vlach was injured in an accident on the way to the arts festival Burning Man in 2005. It was to be her first time at the event, which takes place every Labor Day weekend in northern Nevada.

"It was going to be my first time!" she says. "But I was swooped up in a helicopter and laid up in a hospital instead. I did finally go last year."

(First reported by Kevin Kelly's Lifestream blog.)

 

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