In Australia, the bionic eye comes into focus

Researchers unveil a prototype bionic eye they hope will enable users to perceive points of light that the brain can reconstruct into images.

Just a few months after receiving $42 million from the Australian government, Bionic Vision Australia (BVA) unveils its prototype bionic eye, which researchers hope will enable users to perceive points of light that the brain can reconstruct into images.

Bionic Vision Australia

Announced this week at the University of Melbourne, the wide-view neurostimulator concept was developed by researchers at BVA and the University of New South Wales for patients with vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa or macular degeneration.

The set-up includes a video camera mounted to glasses to capture images, a wireless processor to convert and send those images to the implant, and a chip with 98 electrodes that is attached to the retina. When the implant receives signals from the processor, it stimulates the optic nerve, which directs the electrical impulses from the retina to the brain's visual center.

"We anticipate that this retinal implant will provide users with increased mobility and independence," said Anthony Burkitt, BVA's research director and an engineering professor at the University of Melbourne.

Retinal implants were recently hailed as a success in a human trial by German company Retinal Implant. Leighton Boyd, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at age five and is now president of Retina Australia, hopes to be an implant recipient in the near future. The prototype could be ready for human trial as early as 2011.

BVA is already talking up the prototype's second-gen model, a higher-def implant that might enable users to read large print and recognize faces. They hope to have it ready for testing in four years.

About the author

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.


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