New artificial vision technology could restore vision to the blind

Scientists around the world have been working to help people with conditions that prevent them from moving, seeing, or taking care of themselves for various reasons back to being self-sufficient. Being able to restore vision to the blind or visually impaired is one of the most significant challenges researchers face. A team of engineers from EPFL has developed technology that could partially restore vision for the blind.The team has developed a retinal implant that works with camera-equipped smart glasses and a microcomputer. The system is designed to give blind people a form of artificial vision using electrodes to stimulate their retinal cells. A camera embedded in smart glasses captures images in the wearer's field of view and sends data to a microcomputer placed in one of the end pieces of the eyeglasses.

The microcomputer turns the data into light signals that are sent to the electrodes in the retinal implant. The electrodes stimulate the retina to allow the wearer to see a simple black-and-white version of the image. Users would view an image made up of dots of light that appear when retinal cells are stimulated.

However, users would have to learn to interpret the dots of light to make out shapes and objects. The researchers liken it to looking at the night sky and learning to recognize specific constellations. One major caveat with the system is that it is yet to be tested on humans. Current testing is being conducted using a virtual reality program to simulate what patients see with the implants.

The retinal implants contain 10,500 electrodes, with each one serving to generate a dot of light. This was a challenge as the dots have to be far enough apart that patients can tell the difference between two of them close to each other but densely packed enough to provide sufficient resolution. Testing on the system is ongoing.