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Medicine Science

Bionic Eye Gives Blind Man Sight 203

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-the-better-to-see-you-with dept.
AmigaMMC writes "A man who lost his sight 30 years ago says he can now see flashes of light after being fitted with a bionic eye. Ron, 73, had the experimental surgery seven months ago at London's Moorfield's eye hospital. He says he can now follow white lines on the road, and even sort socks using the bionic eye, known as Argus II. I wouldn't go as far as claiming he regained his sight, but this certainly is a biotechnological breakthrough."
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Bionic Eye Gives Blind Man Sight

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  • Then again (Score:5, Funny)

    by AnonGCB (1398517) <7spams@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @07:56PM (#27071515)
    He only got the starter package -- Due to the economy he couldn't afford his first choice with the laser.
  • 73 years old? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by amclay (1356377) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @07:57PM (#27071519) Homepage Journal
    I would have imagined they would want a subject that would live for longer (average) so that they could continue to have studies about long-term use and wear on the eye socket. That being said, I'm glad progress is being made, and look forward to my own cybor...er replacement eye.
    • Re:73 years old? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Abstrackt (609015) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @07:59PM (#27071547)
      Maybe they wanted an older (closer to dead) person to test on because the process wasn't guaranteed to be safe.
      • Re:73 years old? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sjames (1099) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @08:32PM (#27071879) Homepage

        Since it's an invasive procedure and quite experimental, they may also be considering that getting the 0.8alpha version could preclude getting the more perfected version later. So there's an advantage to a subject that would be too old to undergo an implant by the time the production version is ready. He gets some vision (which beats none) and nobody loses their chance for an even better outcome as a result of the experiment.

      • He didn't die from an electric shock to the inside of his skull, he was just old and had a stroke!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      RTFA. It's a clinical trial, it has two years yet to run.

      After that, I expect that the designers will do BionicEyeMk2, and there'll be another clinical trial. Maybe in a decade, this will become generally available.

      Well, generally available to people with Retinitis Pigmentosa, anyway. It's intended to help people with that condition, not just any old blind guy. What other forms of blindness it might be useful for remains to be seen.

      • by karnal (22275) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @09:15PM (#27072287)

        What other forms of blindness it might be useful for remains to be seen.

        Tell me you meant that in the form of a pun... please!

    • Re:73 years old? (Score:5, Informative)

      by humina (603463) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @08:41PM (#27071969) Homepage
      You need a patient that has gone completely blind from Retinitis pigmentosa or Ag related macular degeneration in order to put the implant in. You will still have better vision in the early stages of the disease. Depending on how bad you get the disease it could take a decade or so before you completely lose your vision. most of the test subjects are quite old for this technology.
    • by Firethorn (177587)

      Generally, you want the short term studies done first; old dude who's going to likely to die soon anyways is likely to cost a lot less if something unexpected messes up bad.

      Save the long term studies for the next version that might actually restore some useful vision.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @07:57PM (#27071527)

    so a man gets his sight back after being blind for 30 years, and the very first thing he does ISN'T download porn? This is some kind of hoax.

  • by glitch23 (557124) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @07:59PM (#27071543)
    I wish the scientists would provide a picture that represents what the person can see so we can see for ourselves just how much of a breakthrough it is. Obviously if the guy can perform daily tasks it is great and I'm happy for the guy but I'd like to see the qualify of the images he is seeing for my own curiousity.
    • by jd (1658) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @08:16PM (#27071687) Homepage Journal

      There are photos on the web of images grabbed from the optic nerve of a cat. They're old, but the description given (can barely see the full moon on a cloudless night) seems to compare well with those early experiments in image capture, and image capture is much easier than image injection (which is what these guys are doing).

    • by humina (603463)
      The original model was a 4x4 image. This model is probably in the range of 64x64 or perhaps 200x200. It is enough to do very basic facial recognition. Don't get your hopes up that there will be anything much better than that though. Cramming in enough electrodes to individually stimulate the millions of points in the eye required for correct color vision is way way off. Just know that these are grayscale and give you blobs of vision. So far off that stem cell replacements are more likely to be viable
    • by bencoder (1197139) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @08:44PM (#27071999)
      OK. this is the Argus II. Which means the MEA (microelectrode array) has only 60 electrodes. Call it 64 to make it easy. Take a picture from a camera. convert it to greyscale. Shrink it down to 8x8. Then expand it to fill your entire field of vision. (use a good enough editor- one that will do smoothing between pixels as you scale it up).

      That should give you a rough idea of how much data is actually available, and also why they don't want to show a picture- people wouldn't be impressed. But to me, this is exciting.
      • by Animaether (411575) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @09:13PM (#27072267) Journal

        Seriously... from being *blind* (no vision at all, whatsoever, etc.) to not just having say a single signal (dark/light), or 3 signals (enough to determine some direction), but 60??

        That's enough not just to make out direction, but also movement.

        The only problem I see is that it's not quite like a photo in that it isn't a regular grid.

        The last I read about this, it went a little something liek this...
        They stick all N electrodes into the visual cortex and then activate them, one by one, and ask the user "is this point more left or more right than this one? Is it higher or lower?" The reason for this is...
        1. they don't know exactly -what- the user is in fact seeing.. they don't even know what 'direction' an electrode is actually giving a signal.
        2. the implantee was blind before. Giving them a single signal and asking them to point roughly into the direction of the illuminated blob they can 'see' is futile - they have no reference.

        Once done, they have a map of where the electrodes roughly are in relationship to eachother, as well as a map of which electrodes are weak, which don't work at all, etc. Only -then- can they hook it up to an imaging processor's output, and weeks of training the user begins. I.e. put a lightbulb right in front of them - what they might 'see' is an illuminated blob nearer to the lower-right of their 'vision', seen from our viewpoint. On the up side, if they have always been blind, they can easily be told that the illumination is coming from directly in front of them. If the implantee had lost his sight later in life, however, they're going to have to re-learn their visual processing.

        Regardless of all of these 'issues', it remains VERY impressive indeed that we can make some deaf people hear and some blind people see.. even if it's nowhere near the acuity of most people, -any- hearing/vision is an immeasurable improvement over -no- hearing/vision.

        • by TinBromide (921574) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @09:33PM (#27072457)
          I read an article about how they strapped special glasses onto owls that flipped the world upside down. They found that it took the owls a few days to kill prey perfectly, but they got to within 99% of their prior abilities with the glasses on in a relatively short time (like a few days).

          When they took the glasses off the owls took a few hours to re-orient themselves to the original right side up orientation.

          Its been like a decade since I read the article or saw the documentary, but I remember commentary about how if they applied it to humans, there would be a similar learning curve.

          Who knows, if given enough time, they might not have needed to re-orient the points for the signal processing.

          I also remember reading that the only thing that babies can make out visually are bright spots and faces, but that was in a facial recognition article about how the brain has a hardwired portion that flashes bright when a face appears in its vision. (Its why we like looking through photos with people in them).
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Ieshan (409693)

            In fact, humans will also adapt under such circumstances. The first reports were as early as 1896, but we have a great video that we show our students in Psych 1 here at the University of Iowa that demonstrates a british student who wears world inverting specs for a week or so. At first, she can't do simple things like write her name or make tea, but later in the video it shows her sketching, riding her bike down a country road, and doing all sorts of other things that require visual perception to accomplis

      • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @10:56PM (#27073241)

        Take a picture from a camera. convert it to greyscale. Shrink it down to 8x8. Then expand it to fill your entire field of vision.

        So if you see this [tinypic.com] then he see this. [tinypic.com]

        Perhaps its a blessing afterall.

      • the rest is figuring out the practicalities. After all an 8 megapixel Cmos sensor is only 2/3" square, more than small enough to fit INSIDE an eye. It's what to connect it to and what signals it needs to send that's the hard part.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by taylorius (221419)

        Of course, what he perceives will be nothing like an 8x8 bitmap image. His brain will do all sorts of cool vision interpretation, including accumulating visual scene information over time (by way of small motions of the head, for example). With all this, I imagine that what he sees will be WAY higher fidelity than an 8x8 bitmap.

    • I wish the scientists would provide a picture that represents what the person can see so we can see for ourselves just how much of a breakthrough it is.

      I would guess that they did, but the BBC thought they were boring so they're not on that page.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Argus II has a 6x10 electrode matrix. While you can think of it as a static array, in reality, the patient is moving the head (think scanning), so there is a bit more of information than what should be apparent. Having an accurate picture of what they actually can see is not easy: the brain rewires and adapts after several months of using the implant; for instance, when talking with an implanted patient in trials of the early array (4x4), he described seeing contours of things, which if you think abou

      • if you've had sight your brain is already programmed, it just needs the smallest bit of information, like looking at an elephant thru a pinhole. If you already know you're supposed to be seeing an elephant. Trying this on somebody who's never had sight would be a different issue.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evilsofa (947078)
      I have retinitis pigmentosa; I'm 39, and have only lost my peripheral vision so far. Pictures of what I can see and can't see wouldn't translate very well. The part of my vision where I can't see does not show as black, like when you close your eyes. There's no color at all - it's not color, it's nothing. What color do you see out of the back of your head?

      The nothing is so nothing that as it slowly took over my peripheral vision over a period of 20 years, I never noticed it was there. It was not unt
  • by Guido del Confuso (80037) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @08:06PM (#27071591)

    He says he can now follow white lines on the road

    Here in California, that'd be good enough to issue him a driver license.

  • I wonder how much better the eye would work on someone with a younger brain, that can recalibrate itself better to the new signals coming from the new eye.

    • In humans, the optic pathways form around birth, up until 1 year of age or so. If the baby can't see at all in that time, then the brain never "forms" those pathways, and so the vision part of the brain never develops properly.

    • by humina (603463)

      I wonder how much better the eye would work on someone with a younger brain, that can recalibrate itself better to the new signals coming from the new eye.

      The eye is not replaced. The stimulator is stimulating the nerve cells in the back of the eye which travels through the optic nerve to the optical cortex. Only the rods and cones and some of the intermediate layers of the retina are being bypassed. Your Brain has enough neural plasticity to handle these implants after using them for a while.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @08:11PM (#27071643)

    Since they've gotten the eye-brain interface worked out, how long can it really take before artificial eyes are better than human ones? Technology increases exponentially, as a general rule.

    Myself, I'm looking forward to open source eyes.

    • by incognito84 (903401) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @08:33PM (#27071889)
      I just want to have the ability to rotate my eyeball 180 degrees and look at my own brain.
    • by humina (603463) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @08:51PM (#27072057) Homepage

      Since they've gotten the eye-brain interface worked out, how long can it really take before artificial eyes are better than human ones? Technology increases exponentially, as a general rule.

      Myself, I'm looking forward to open source eyes.

      Way way way far off. Your eye has layers that compress the data that is received from the light input and sent down the optic nerve. To get better vision the implant would not stimulate the retina, since the max resolution would be the number of rods and cones in your eye to begin with, and being able to do that is not happening anytime soon. You would have to directly stimulate the optical cortex itself in order to get visual perceptions of higher quality than your eye can produce. That would require you to know how the body encodes the data in the eye, routes it to the visual cortex, and then you would need to implant stimulators at every single spot in the visual cortex in order to get visual perceptions that are better than the eye. You also have to encode, wirelessly transmit and wirelessly power the whole system. You would be better off genetically engineering a better eye and attempting to implant that instead.

      I guess the short answer to your question is: not in your lifetime.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        You also have to encode, wirelessly transmit and wirelessly power the whole system.

        Yeah, I noticed the wirelessness in the video. (And a 30-second ad followed by a 36 second video -- really, BBC?)

        My first thought was to tag the story whatcouldgowrong -- why does it need to be wireless? How do you prevent someone from jamming it, or wirelessly broadcasting horse porn directly into your eyeball?

        (Yes, I know we can do this already using the visual spectrum. The difference is, doing it that way, at least you can turn away, tear it down, or find whoever's doing it and hurt them, badly. This wa

        • by Fluffeh (1273756)

          How do you prevent someone from jamming it, or wirelessly broadcasting horse porn directly into your eyeball?

          That isn't on your wish list of things to happen before you die? Freak!

          • How do you prevent someone from jamming it, or wirelessly broadcasting horse porn directly into your eyeball?

            That isn't on your wish list of things to happen before you die?

            No, if I'm going to be skullfucked, metaphorically or literally, I'd rather it happens after I'm dead.

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              It's a date.

      • You would be better off genetically engineering a better eye and attempting to implant that instead.

        Because that is far more simple than designing an artificial eye that is better than a normal eye.

        Anyway I think you misunderstand him. While it may be true that the optic nerve will bottleneck anything you send through, it's easy to imagine ways of still getting an improvement over the normal eye: night vision, infrared, UV, longer distance, microscope vision. None of those things would improve resolution but assuming they did the duty of normal eyes but also did those things, that would be "better" than

        • by muridae (966931)
          I'm always amazed that human vision sees so much range and tone in just under one octave range, while our hearing is tuned to near 10 octaves. Imagine the paintings that could come about if we could extend our visual range.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by shawb (16347)
        FWIW, resolution is not the only thing that you can improve in an eye to improve on it. Just off the top of my head there is: focusing ability, range of light intensity, spread of IR spectrum and possibly refresh rate that could be improved on without increasing the resolution.
        • by timeOday (582209)
          That was my thought. FLIR, or binoculars, could fall under a reasonable definition of "bionic eyeballs" if they were miniaturized and implantable. Contact lenses might qualify right now. Sure they don't amaze you because you're used to them, but to somebody 1000 years ago they would be positively miraculous.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        There is experimental research going on in reshaping cones via a laser.

        We are a lot closer to replacing the eye then you think.

        http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/0002-9394/PIIS0002939401013010.pdf [elsevierhealth.com]

        Once stem cells become 'routine' changing the genetics involved would be the next logical(to me) research step.

        Of course, that doesn't answer the question of what happens if we can expand the freq. the optics can interpret? Would it just not work? would the brain see a new color?

    • by mog007 (677810)

      I'm the first one to say that technology is capable of shit that nature can't come close to, but we've had all kinds of technological advances as far as stuff like artificial joints go, and such devices are very good replacements, but they aren't better than the original equipment.

    • Won't happen. I spent some time discussing such options with a researcher in the field when this was done roughly 10 years ago in the USA. (I have a blind programmer friend, so I paid close attention.)

      The brain does not get direct optical signals like a TV camera and television. There are multiple layers of fascinating processing that occur directly in the retina. before the signal ever gets to the optic nerve, including edge detection, motion detection, and color detection. In fact, the spread of current f

  • How much did this experiment cost? I don't wish to sound callous, but we waste too many health care dollars on people who have already lived a full life. The same money could be better spent on younger people where the return on investment is much greater.
    • I don't know about you but I plan to live to 140.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)

      You might want to read the article and find out how much vision has been restored.

      You also might want to realize that at this stage ANY chance to do this experiment on anybody benefits the knowledge for all future research in this are, thus helping everyone.

    • by Fluffeh (1273756)
      Read TFA for one to see how wrong you are, and secondly, if you were a doctor and needed something to practice on, who would you pick? Really?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      How much did this experiment cost? I don't wish to sound callous, but we waste too many health care dollars on people who have already lived a full life.

      I'll be 57 next year, you insensitive clod, and yes, I've lived a full life and have fewer years ahead than behind. I've contributed to YOUR welfare all that time, kid.

      I had cataract surgery [slashdot.org] in 2006 and a Vitrectomy [slashdot.org] last April. You're saying that I should have just gone blind in my left eye?

      What an asshat. My "foes" list is empty but sometimes I'm sorely te

  • Only 60 electrodes (Score:3, Informative)

    by dlevitan (132062) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @08:16PM (#27071689)

    From this press release [2-sight.com] this appears to have only 60 electrodes (and I assume only grayscale). This is definitely remarkable progress, but still nowhere close to achieving a bionic eye that can come even close to rivaling the real human eye.

    The question they're also answering (besides how well does this work) is how well can the brain interpret simple images into more complex images that would allow someone to get by in life. That may be as interesting, if not more interesting, than the actual experiment with the device.

    • by Tetsujin (103070)

      From this press release [2-sight.com] this appears to have only 60 electrodes (and I assume only grayscale).

      So they wired a PXL2000 to his head. Awesome!

      Really, though, it is pretty cool.

  • Ironically (Score:2, Interesting)

    by geekoid (135745)

    he lost his sight the same year the Six Million Dollar Man went off the air. Coincidence?

    why yes.

  • A few years ago, I dated a person that was friends with a person who was blind from birth. Apparently, he was also fitted with a device very similar to that in the article. However, he said (to her) that it wasn't much use because it only detected light patterns, not a full spectral field.

    So is this new tech, or any different from what's available now?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Cussin_IT (1143215)

      The advancement isn't in the attachment to the eye, but rather the machinerie of the device. The one that you're thinking of would have had a resolution of 4x4, meaning 16 pixels which where either black or white. If I understand corectly, this device has 60 pixels (about 7x7, it can't be square though) and produces some sort of grey scale (ether 16 or 256 both of wich beat 2). The thing is that they both interface into the optic nerve in the same way.

  • by wjsteele (255130) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @09:16PM (#27072299)
    Alan Alda did a show several years ago on Scientific American Frontiers called "Cybersenses" [pbs.org] where he featured a guy who also had an "artificial eye" implanted. It used 64 electrodes (if I remember correctly) and they were working on one that used 1024.

    He was able to actually get enough information out of his that he could read letters printed on the wall of the building they were in. He also saw a "bright spot" when they went outside that turned out to be Alan's forehead.

    Bill
  • Cochlear implants have 22 electrodes or so, and the people I know who have them can generally understand reasonably clear speech with the implant. Obviously vision is in two dimensions and will take more signals to reach that level of utility, but 60 is well on the way.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by domatic (1128127)

      22 electrodes in a cochlear implant would correspond roughly to a 22-bar spectrum analyzer. If each electrode gives a weaker or stronger signal in relation to audio intensity and only responds to a certain frequency range due to it's location in the cochlea then that is going have a bigger payoff than the same number of electrodes on an artifical retina where each electrode corresponds roughly to a grayscale pixel and said pixels aren't necessarily arranged in a neat grid.

      It doesn't surprise me that 22 ele

  • Instead of an "Holy Crap! The Blind Can See!" as a summary, is it too much to ask that you add half a sentence describing the specific condition that this procedure is capable of treating? "A man who lost his sight 30 years ago from retinitis pigmentosa, a group of genetic diseases causing retina degeneration, ..." would have been fine.

    Sure, I can click over and read the original source, but it's not so convenient sifting through paragraphs on the BBC's website when I'm reading this on my Pocket PC whi
  • I believe I saw a special on this on Sci Am, they were using a 4x4 or 16 bit matrix.

    Looking at the how it works vid, I think I counted and 8x8 or 64 bit array. It's climbing up there.
  • I'm not even blind and these stories make me crazy. Honest to Dog, I think I've read stories about this being tried once every decade since the '70s. so _WHEN_ will it be ready for prime time?

    Either that, or just give up on running a story on it every decade. Geez.

  • will go way up due to demand.
  • Does it make this [entertonement.com] really cool sound?
  • They've tried something like this in the past [wired.com], but never heard anything more about it. This new version is considerably less intrusive - in the old article from 2002, they had to implant electrodes in the guy's head through a port. And the old way actually bypassed the eye, whereas this new one actually uses what is still useful in the eye.

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