Approximately 10 million individuals worldwide are affected by retinal diseases that render loss of vision. As scientists work to counter complex disorders, blindness remains one of the most difficult to treat. Blindness, in addition to disrupting one’s innate sensory hierarchy, can make one unable to support oneself economically. It is much more difficult for the visually impaired to find employment. Artificial vision, once a quixotic concept, has emerged as a realistic application to aid the visually impaired.
The purpose of artificial vision is to restore visual functions. The field of artificial vision has been stagnating in the last thirty years due to the physiological complexity of the eye. A reflection of this complexity is the retina, where millions of cellular photoreceptors react to light. The retina is a layer of tissue that is contiguous with the back wall within the eye. Retina cells are classified as photoreceptors or interpreter cells, which transmit electrochemical signals to an optic nerve. For a majority of the last decade, research related to this subject was like chemistry without the periodic table. Without fundamental knowledge about the physiology of the retina and optic nerve, it was impossible to develop technology to replicate the function of the retina.
However, the company Optobionics developed the Artificial Silicon Retina in 2005. Amazingly, silicon, the elementhas fueled conglomerates in Silicon Valley, acts as a source of optimism in a once dormantield. The artificial retina contains about 3,500 microscopic solar cells that replicate the function of retinal photoreceptors to translate light into electrical impulses. The artificial retina allowed blind patients to see ten by ten pixel images. Implantation of this device is remarkably simplistic as surgeons only have to make three incisions in the white portion of the eye. In the nine years following the creation of Optobionics, research institutions, such as those at Yale University, Rice University and the University of Pennsylvania continued to develop methods to aid the visually impaired. With the revitalization of the field of artificial vision, a bright future is clearly visible for many.
Bonsor, Kevin. “HowStuffWorks “How Artificial Vision Will Work”!”” HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Jan. 2014. <http://www.howstuffworks.com/>.
Coldewey, Devin. “NBC.com | TV Network for Primetime, Daytime and Late Night Television Shows.” Researchers Crack Retinal Code to Deliver Artificial Vision. NBC News, 14 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Jan. 2014. <http://www.nbc.com/>.