For the first time in history a team of American and Hong Kong scientists have developed a bionic eye with the natural structure of its human counterpart. Eventually it could be used as a prosthesis to give blind people sight.
According to the WHO, there are 253 million visually impaired people in the world. Research laboratories all over the world are working hard to find technologies that will give them sight (again). As early as ten years ago, artificial retinas were developed to give some people with macular degeneration a semblance of vision. Today, scientists from Hong Kong and the United States have published an article in the journal Nature about their progress in an eye that can be considered the first to be completely bionic.
The prototype called EC-EYE, for ElectroChemical EYE, consists of small sensors that mimic the real photoreceptor cells of the human eye. They are positioned on a semispherical membrane made of aluminum and tungsten. The assembly is one inch wide and forms a retina. It is held in place by a silicone polymer support. A lens is placed in front of the eye to restore the function of the eyeball. Inside the eyeball, an ionic liquid enhances the resemblance to a real eye. For data processing, the data is transmitted via thin, flexible, rubber-coated liquid metal cables.
Restoration of vision to the blind within five years
The current prototype has a limited resolution of 100 pixels and currently only allows the differentiation of certain letters, such as E, I, and Y. Likewise, their field of view is only 100°, while that of humans can reach 160°, but that is only the beginning!
Optimally, researchers believe that it might be possible to produce such a sensitive bionic eye, that is even better than the human eye, in just five years. For example, they consider it conceivable to increase the density of nanosensors to ten times the density of photoreceptors for the real eye.
Researchers are also working on using these eyes for humanoid robots. The development would, they say, be much easier. But despite its poor performance, this prototype is already remarkable. This is the first time that a synthetic version of an eye with its natural characteristics has been created.