A computer chip implanted into a blind person's brain could help them see.
The chips, being developed by the Monash Vision Group at Australia's Monash University, are implanted into a person's visual cortex, the part of the brain at the back of the head that controls vision. They are linked wirelessly with a pair of glasses that person wears. Those glasses contain a tiny video camera that records everything as low-resolution black-and-white images.
The electronic information from the images is then sent to a computer processor where a program converts the data into signals the brain can understand, and then sends those signals to the implanted chip. Once there, the brain uses the signals to build up a picture of what the camera is seeing.
The crude, low-res image isn't good enough to allow a person to read or drive. Not yet. But the technology will get better.
Currently, one of the challenges is powering the chips in the brain. The amount of processing power and the number of electrodes involved is a lot more than for a cochlear implant, used for hearing, because the amount of information is so much larger. An implant to the ear requires about 15 electrodes while the visual cortex needs 600.
The technique is not the only one being developed to help blind people see. California-based Second Sight are developing an artificial retina that involves electrodes implanted directly into the eye itself.
Photo: The microchip for the bionic eye.
Credit: Monash University