Science! Prosthetic Eyes!

If there was an injury that would encourage me to get cybernetics, it would be the loss of eyesight.  If I lost a hand or other extremity I would likely consider a prosthetic, but even the most advanced ones are pretty non-invasive.  Replacing an eye would be very much more so, since in order for it to work it would need to connect directly to the optic system, likely at the optic nerve (or go straight into the brain, even scarier).

Today I read that scientists have reverse engineered animal brains to create bionic prosthetic eyes.

The image is a little grainy yet, but they have been able to restore at least partial vision to mice with destroyed retinas.

how effective Nirenberg and Pandarinath’s prosthetic eye is
how effective Nirenberg and Pandarinath’s prosthetic eye is

This is nowhere near good enough that I would volunteer to give up my sight for it, but as someone who used to hang out on BBSes in the late 80s and early 90s, I’ve seen worse.

Come to that, I’ve had digital cameras that produced worse images.

If I lost the use of one or both eyes but could get access to this technology and recover this much vision I would jump on it, and wait eagerly for improvements.

The post says researchers are confident that human trials could begin in a year or two.  This is amazing… and once it becomes available, improvement comes next, and once it becomes more common improvement comes much faster.  That digital camera I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago?  Nowhere near the quality I get from my phone… and this technology could get as much better, faster, especially if you consider that the human eye offers a lot more room to work with than a mouse’s eye.

This, a virus that destroys breast cancer in a week, spray-on skin for burn victims that causes what could be a crippling wound to be largely healed over a weekend… I don’t need flying cars to be living in the future.


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  1. I have sitting on my desk in work a camera that can detect individual photons, and capture at speeds up to millions of frames per second, pushing a billion.

    It’s only 5.5 megapixels though, so “phone photographers” would sneer at it. ;o)

    • is it small enough to put in an eye socket? Or even comfortably carry on your head?

      Hmm… quick google suggests human vision might be somewhere around 576 MP… but can have difficulty telling the difference between 300DPI and 150DPI at ‘normal viewing distance’. Anyway, if human vision is around 576 MP, that’s only a factor of about 100.

      My first digital camera was 640×480, or about 0.3MP. A trivial search tells me cameras with more than 14 MP are available, which is a factor of almost 50 in about 15 years or so.

      Ten or twenty years from now, full-practical-human-resolution cybernetic eyes? I can believe it.

      • Hah, well, the whole unit is about the size OF a child’s head. The sensor itself could fit in an eye socket, but we need a vacuum chamber and various cooling systems to get that kind of sensitivity. There’s also a bunch of on-board storage and processing equipment. It’s still a cool (pun intended) application of modern camera technology though.

        Human eye resolution varies over the retina (xkcd had something interesting about visual field recently).

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