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Biotech Medicine Technology

MIT Microchip Could Someday Restore Vision 43

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-can-see-clearly-now dept.
CWmike writes "Researchers at MIT have developed a microchip that could, one day, enable blind people to regain some level of vision. By combining wireless technology, eyeglasses equipped with a camera, and the chip, they should be able to restore at least some vision to people who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration, two of the leading causes of blindness, the scientists say. The chip, which is designed to be attached to the eyeball, would pick up images sent from the camera and electrically stimulate the nerve cells that normally carry visual input from the retina to the brain. The chip is sealed in a titanium case to keep water from leaking in and damaging its circuitry. At this point, the technology is not expected to restore normal vision, but MIT said it should provide the ability to navigate around a room or walk down a sidewalk. 'Anything that could help them see a little better and let them identify objects and move around a room would be an enormous help,' said Shawn Kelly, a researcher in MIT's Research Laboratory for Electronics. 'If they can recognize faces of people in a room, that brings them into the social environment as opposed to sitting there waiting for someone to talk to them.'"
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MIT Microchip Could Someday Restore Vision

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  • Neat, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Raindance (680694) * <johnsonmx@@@gmail...com> on Friday September 25, 2009 @10:21PM (#29546017) Homepage Journal

    Here are some questions I have about the chip:

    - These chips/systems already exist. What's new about this MIT effort? The Computerworld article was very sparse.

    - There's a great deal of bidirectional communication that goes on in normal eyes-- information not only flowing from eye to brain, but from brain to eye as well. As far as I know these tech just discards these signals. Is this important?

    - Last I heard, this sort of technology was approaching 1000 effective pixels of visual information (assuming ideal electrode placement). Has this effort from MIT pushed this boundary? How does '1000 effective pixels' compare to the eye's effective resolution? Can we put normal vision in terms of pixel resolution?

    - I've read about shunting tactile senses (for instance, the nerves on a person's tongue) over to a digital videocamera. I believe the military has done a fair bit of research into this. Could this sort of approach be viable for helping the blind function as well? Could it become the preferred approach since it seems less invasive than ocular- and neuro-surgery?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by DrMrLordX (559371)

      I am not an expert in the field or otherwise well-informed about the subject matter at hand, but it seems to me the major differences here are that it's wireless and that it communicates with a glasses-mounted camera that would hopefully be less obvious to a casual observer than the Borg-like implants that have been used to provide limited sight to the blind in the past. The article is somewhat lacking in the details department.

      Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong; I've merely arrived at these conclusions

      • by Pseudonym (62607)

        I am not an expert in the field or otherwise well-informed about the subject matter at hand, but it seems to me the major differences here are that it's wireless and that it communicates with a glasses-mounted camera that would hopefully be less obvious to a casual observer than the Borg-like implants that have been used to provide limited sight to the blind in the past.

        So how is this different from the same thing that everyone is working on? Including, I might add, a consortium which includes the group who invented the cochlear implant [bionicvision.org.au].

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      - Last I heard, this sort of technology was approaching 1000 effective pixels of visual information (assuming ideal electrode placement). Has this effort from MIT pushed this boundary? How does '1000 effective pixels' compare to the eye's effective resolution? Can we put normal vision in terms of pixel resolution?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_eye#Dynamic_range

    • by hawk (1151)

      Similar things have been reported for *at least* 30 years.

      In the 1970's, I recall a sensor that clipped to eye glasses and connected to electrodes on the back of the user. I want to say that it was 16x16 or 32x32, but it provided enough "vision" to navigate and see objects.

      A few months ago, iirc, was a report which used nerves on the tongue.

      These reports are evolutionary, not revolutionary. A good thing, but it's not as if this is a breakthrough changing the world from "nothing to let the see" to "now the

    • "There's a great deal of bidirectional communication that goes on in normal eyes-- information not only flowing from eye to brain, but from brain to eye as well. As far as I know these tech just discards these signals. Is this important?" Actually, communication mediated by the optic nerve is pretty much uni-directional. There is some evidence for a small amount of bi-directional communication in the chicken, but the far greater loss of information comes from the limited number of electrodes in the chip. T
    • Last I heard, this sort of technology was approaching 1000 effective pixels of visual information (assuming ideal electrode placement). Has this effort from MIT pushed this boundary? How does '1000 effective pixels' compare to the eye's effective resolution? Can we put normal vision in terms of pixel resolution?

      To get an idea of the eye's effective resolution, think of a very high resolution monitor -- resolution so high that you couldn't tell the difference between it and a higher-resolution monitor sitting next to it. That's how much resolution the eye has.

      Reviewers used to say that you didn't need a digital camera with a resolution greater than 5 megapixels, unless you were going to enlarge it. So 5 MP, which is about a 2,000x2,000 pixel line, sounds like a good guess. That's about 0.1 degree per pixel, which s

  • This is a total waste of time. Nature already has the best eye.. all we have to do is grow it.. But for the sake of technology, this stuff is great and can result in advances in other fields and products.. maybe someday allowing us to replace our eyes with totally hackable bionic eyes hooked into the internet and capable of playing all the porn we want anytime we want it.. shit, I missed my bus again..
    • by selven (1556643)
      Research into electronic solutions specifically also benefits other areas that may be useful, like mind-machine interfaces.
    • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Friday September 25, 2009 @10:47PM (#29546095) Homepage
      That sounds lovely. What are we supposed to do until then, though? Just sit around on our laurels and wait for it to happen? What of all the sight we could marginally-restore until it's all ready and perfect?
      • by nanospook (521118)
        Focus on the biological idea and let it grow itself.. do we not see multiple stem cell ideas and advances weekly as compared to a technological area? While America has been sitting on stem cell research, other countries have moved ahead.. (or so I've read :), especially China.. I'll take a pair of blue eyes please :)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DMUTPeregrine (612791)
          Yes, and chip designers all have second degrees in biology and are qualified to do cutting-edge stem cell research.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by FooAtWFU (699187)
            As far as Slashdot is concerned, I blame people playing Civilization and its ilk, and thinking that you can (and possibly should) research just one area of technology at a time.
            • I have to agree, even games that allow you to research multiple things at one time don't really give you any benefit to doing so. Space Empires, I'm looking at you.

              Doing Tech 1 then 2 then 3 will get you the three techs just as fast as doing 1+2+3, with the added benefit that you'll get 1 and 2 a couple turns faster.

              Personally, I'd do something like give a 1-10% advantage per additional tech you're researching to show the benefits of synergy and that a scientist suited for researching lasers is probably no

        • by BigRedFed (635728)
          How about invest int a company like ACTC [advancedcell.com] that is about to file for clinical trials with the FDA on using Stem Cells for the same purpose?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by moon3 (1530265)
        We all have grown our eyes once, stem cells from our bodies can arrange and grow another eye again. We have already grown beating rat hearts in the lab, so to grow human organs and tissue is the next step. What they need to do is to assemble basic protein scaffolding and then arrange and activate the stem cells to move to right places and build the organ. This happens in bio-reactors, hell it is not that other worldly tech, some labs do similar things already, but mostly in obscurity. What amazes me that th
    • by tsm_sf (545316)
      This is a total waste of time.

      This is why slashdot sucks ass.
    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      You are thinking too small...think DARPA...imagine giving your special ops multi-spectral vision. Infrared, ultraviolet, built in zoom, military would pay some damned big checks for that tech. I have a feeling just like most of our other advancements it will come from something the military industrial complex cooks up for the battlefield and then passes down to the civilians.

      Imagine having an infrared laser sight that your soldiers can see clear as day with their "bare" eyes while the enemy doesn't see j

    • I agree. Recent developments seem to indicate stem cell therapies effectively repair many of the defects that make people blind. This technology will probably never see the light of day as medicine improves in leaps and bounds, making technological solutions crude and ineffective by comparison to "the real thing".
    • Don't know, I don't know such stuff. I just do eyes, ju-, ju-, just eyes... just genetic design, just eyes. You Nexus, huh? I design your eyes.
  • Gee, I wonder where [wikipedia.org] they got this idea from...

  • If this is as "great" as modern hearing aids, I will pass.
    I have no desire to live with "coleco vision" for the remainder of my life.
    • If this is as "great" as modern hearing aids, I will pass. I have no desire to live with "coleco vision" for the remainder of my life.

      As opposed to "no vision" for the remainder of your life?

  • ... to keep a Cadillac driver on the road for a few more decades. Also, if they can put their glasses up on the dashboard, not being able to see over the steering wheel will no longer be an issue.

  • ... but what ever happened to natural eyesight improvement?

    http://www.iblindness.org/ [iblindness.org]

    Just not profitable enough I suppose.

  • "Damn it! Where are my glasses!?"

  • People with macular degeneration can already walk down a sidewalk or navigate around a room. They still have peripheral vision.

    The macula is the spot at the center of the retina which has the highest concentration of receptors and the highest resolution.

    It's damn useful, and it's hard (though not impossible) to read and identify faces without it. But macular degeneration spares the peripheral vision, so people can still get around. It's not "cane-tapping" blind. There are also some methods of using the peri

  • I'm sick and fucking tired of web sites that are a slim stip of content down the middle, with horseshit on the side.
  • "Second Sight expects the Argus II to be its first commercially available device, hitting the United States market in 2010. Mech said the company hasn't set a price, but suggested the Argus II would cost more than a cochlear implant. That could put the price between $60,000 and $100,000. Meanwhile, he hopes to start clinical trials in 2011 for a third generation of the device with more than 200 electrodes." [Science Notes 2009] http://scicom.ucsc.edu/SciNotes/0901/pages/vision/vision.html [ucsc.edu] [Integrated Bioe

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