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Artificial Retina

Demo: Artificial Retina

In the mid-1980s, neuroophthalmologist Joseph Rizzo III was researching retinal transplants to restore blind people’s vision...Rizzo conceived of a retinal prosthesis—an implant that would take a wireless signal from a video camera, bypass the light receptors, and stimulate the healthy nerve cells directly to feed the image to the brain. Rizzo, working at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and the Boston VA Medical Center, teamed up with MIT electrical engineer John Wyatt Jr. to pursue the scheme. In 1988, they launched the Boston Retinal Implant Project, which today comprises 27 researchers at eight institutions. The team has already done short-term human tests and hopes to test a permanent prosthesis by 2006.

...Wyatt points to a small black square that acts as the implant’s brain. This chip, designed in his lab, receives image data and power from the transmitter and figures out the pattern of electrode firings that will best recreate the image from the camera.
One of the things that's interesting to me about this story is how this is really the only way to stimulate the brain to perceive an image more efficiently than Microvision's light scanning approach. I would suggest that people are not likely to run out and get retinal implants to start playing the latest virtual reality games any time soon. People seem to like their eyeballs as they are just fine, for the most part.

While it is probable that in generations to come, people may be less squeamish about getting implants in their retinas, inner ears or spinal cords for the purposes of totally convincing audiovisual-tactile virtual reality, I think the light scanning method of image display has a long ways to run before we're crowded out by the retinal implant makers. That being said, it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on this (sorry) and position the company to be the leader in retinal implants for the time when the world is ready. Given the pace of miniaturization of electronics, and advances in wireless data transfer methods, these retinal implants could be less frightening to 'install' than we might think they would be, by the time they become commercially viable.

It could very well be, that in the year 2030, if you don't have one of these, you're beyond out of touch -- you're not in the same world as everyone else.


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