Bionic eyeballs will hit the market soon…

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

bionic eye
The Argus II (on the left) is implanted into an eyeball (on the right).

You may remember Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody from Harry Potter, right? He lost an eye and had it replaced by a magical one, which definitely came in handy when he taught students by day and fought bad guys by night. Well, since the bionic eye Argus II is going to hit the market soon, we can expect to see more people with smart eyes!

However, the gadget isn’t going to be for just anyone who wants a mechanical eye. It’s specially designed for individuals who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that makes them unable to perceive light and dark.

See, our retinas (back of our inner eye) are usually lined with cells that can detect all the different colors of light. These “photoreceptors” send a signal to our brain, that then lets us see images. Individuals who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa usually have fewer photoreceptors, and thus have difficulty seeing clearly.

It’s almost like the difference between an expensive HDTV and an old, run down tube. The HDTV has a high number of pixels, so the image is crisp and clear, while the older model has way fewer, and so has a much less sharp display. However, with Argus II, individuals with retinitis pigmentosa will “up the pixel count” in their eye, so to speak.

The way it works is rather interesting. First, a person wears a pair of glasses equipped with a recording device attached to it. The video it picks up will be sent wirelessly to a chip implanted on the individual’s retina, which in turn sends a signal to the brain. The overall effect is better vision for light and dark! Mind you, it’s nowhere near the vision of a normal person, but as Dr. Jacque Duncan, a professor of ophthalmology at UCSF explains, “The device is not going to enable them to drive a car or read fine print on a newspaper. But… it might help them enjoy a better quality of life.”

According to government estimates, 1 in 14,000 people in the nation are affected by retinitis pigmentosa. With Argus II, they won’t have their vision completely restored, but at least they’ll be better off than before!

Images courtesy of Second Sight.