Wireless Cyborg Eyes for the Blind

The future of vision.


Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina. Thus, people experience loss of the visual field and night blindness.

Although, certain experimental devices and treatments have been invented and implemented on retinas to help people regain visual field. But those devices failed to offer best. As they are expensive, they only illuminate blotches of light and dark, devoid of details.

These conditions are of expanding concern in growing aging population. Fortunately, a Stanford scientist finds out a futuristic solution.

Professor E.J. Chichilnisky planning to create a device that revolutionizes the way electronic devices interface with the brain.

Retinitis pigmentosa and AMD cause many of the cells in the retina to die. Thus, signals that pass visual signals to brain can’t reach to the brain. And, currently available treatments only replace the dead cells and turn light into electric signals.

But, the reality is, the disease doesn’t kill all cells in the retina. And this is where current implanting methods goes wrong.

Chichilnisky said, “Retinal ganglion cells, which pull in information from all the other cells in the retina, seem to survive the culling. There are about 20 different types of retinal ganglion cells scattered across the retina. All transmit a different type of information to the brain.”

“Timing is essential to the function of these cells. One type of cell could tell the brain a region on the image is brighter now than it was a moment ago, and another could tell the brain the image is darker. If both are activated at once, that’s a nonsense signal sent to the brain.”

Chichilnisky wants each ganglion cell to play at its proper moment. So, along with his team, he is planning to develop wireless cyborg eyes.

The solution, wireless cyborg eyes cannot only transmit the right signals to the ganglion cells but also read the retina to figure out which kind of ganglion cell sits where. Later on, it can stimulate itself to create a cohesive image.

It’s a dialogue with the retina, you have to talk back and forth to the circuit. Scientists hope that it will ‘write’ all the time, but ‘read’ the retina only occasionally.

Scientists are planning it to develop with the material that can stay long on the retina without causing any damage. It also demands a dense concentration of fine-grained electrodes on a small chip that doesn’t emit too much heat.

Currently, scientists are finding the exact design for their compact and wireless cyborg eyes. They also testing different techniques on the excised retinas of animals used for other experiments.

Chichilnisky believes, “regardless of what other developments in treating blindness come about, the technology we are developing will represent the future of neural implants. Devices that can both listen and talk to the brain in the same ‘language’ will enable humans to treat neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s or control prosthetic limbs.”

He said, “The tech will likely be used to hack our own biology, augmenting our memory and pushing our vision to new limits. It’s going to happen. If you think it won’t, you haven’t been reading enough.”

He hopes to have a lab prototype in the next couple of years and to start testing it on live animals within five years.