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A “bionic eye” renders the world in 6×9 resolution for the blind


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The eye will be available in 12 markets later this year.

A “bionic eye” that allows people with late stage retinitis pigmentosa to see will be available in 12 markets later this year, per an announcement from University Hospitals. UH will offer the eye, which uses an implant to render a scene for patients in 50 to 60 pixels of black, white, and gray imagery.

The Argus II implant, developed by Second Sight, focuses on rendering scenes for patients in contrast. In function, the Argus II is similar to a cochlear implant. It works by receiving and processing information into electric signals that stimulate the relevant body part to simulate a sensory experience.

The implant works with a set of glasses that include a small video camera, which records the scene. The video is then processed and transformed into “instructions” that are passed through a cable back to the glasses.

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A Second Sight Argus II panel member sporting the glasses component.

The instructions are transmitted by antenna to the implant in the eye, which takes the instructions as signals that are transferred to an electrode array. The signals stimulate the active cells in the retina, bypass the damaged ones, and are then passed along the optic nerve. This allows the brain to see patterns of light. In a demo video, Second Sight shows how an open door is rendered as, basically, three sides of a rectangle on a 6×9 display.

Detail-wise, the signal and display are about as sophisticated as the LED “OPEN” signs at cafes. According to Popular Science, the Argus II system is roughly the equivalent of 20/1260 vision, so patients can identify if an object is or isn’t in front of them, where it is, and whether it’s moving. The next generation of implants is still several years off, as is color vision.

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