Scientists create a working robotic eye for a blind patient
In the very near future, perhaps within the next few years, there is a chance that humanity will have found a way to overcome blindness in most people. And if a new avenue of research is successful, we may one day see a wave of people with a robotic eye or two for necessity and possibly even convenience.
There are estimated to be 285 million people around the world with some form of visual impairment (not counting poor eyesight), including 39 million that are legally blind. Many of those people are in low-income countries, and 80-percent of the cases of visual impairment can be prevented or even cured through treatment or surgery. That number may soon be closer to 100-percent.
A company known as Second Sight just successfully implanted its “Orion I” visual prosthetic in a patient for the first time. The prosthetic is described as a wireless visual cortex stimulator, and unlike many other visual prosthetics that stimulate existing retinal cells in the eye, the Orion I connects directly to the visual cortex.
The recent test was conducted at UCLA on a 30-year old patient that is blind, and the patient reported seeing spots of light thanks to the visual prostehtic. That’s a far cry from completely restoring sight in a patient, but the technology showed that it can work. The next step is an application to the Food and Drug Administration for a full round of human testing. During that stage, the technology will be refined, and hopefully, legitimately give sight back to the blind.
Assuming the technology is successful, and assuming it improves to the point where it can offer better sight than human eyes, it raises an interesting question: Will people voluntarily replace their organic eyes with cybernetic eyes?
There is always the question of what form human augmentation will take in the future, but it’s mostly a question for sci-fi. It makes for an interesting story to have a hero or an antagonist with robotic limbs capable of granting superhuman strength, but the reality is that most people would probably balk at voluntarily replacing a limb or two with metal.
Eyes might be a different story. People are always looking for ways to improve their eyesight, whether it’s through glasses, contacts, or even corrective surgery. If someone with failing eyesight has the option of improving their vision with a robotic eye or two that offers perfect near and far sight, inhumanly good night vision, and possibly even an AR interface, it might be more tempting.
That’s still a long way away, but it just took one major step closer.