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Implants Allow the Blind to See 354

gihan_ripper writes "Neurosurgeon Kenneth Smith has performed a revolutionary operation on St Louis resident Cheri Robertson, connecting a camera directly to her optic nerve. The rig is in principle similar to Geordi La Forge's visor, albeit in very rudimentary form. At present, the 'image' consists of a number of white dots, as on an LED display. There are also governmental restrictions on this research, forcing Kenneth and his team to fly to Portugal to carry out the operation. If this technology takes off, the future will be bright for the sight-impaired."
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Implants Allow the Blind to See

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  • Infrared? (Score:5, Funny)

    by AoT ( 107216 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:41PM (#15072586) Homepage Journal
    Can I get the infrared/untraviolet model?
    • by Adrilla ( 830520 ) * on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:44PM (#15072600) Homepage
      Just wait until the X-ray version surfaces. Every pervert will have one.
    • by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:47PM (#15072626)
      Camera tech is pretty well-known. Adding IR, UV, magnification, auto-adjusting for sunlight/night vision is all fairly trivial once you have the optic connection.

      Imagine switching to sepia tone whenever you want that "wild west" feel.

      The hard part, of course, is the resolution. Stimulating specific optic nerves is tricky, but fortunately your brain is good at dealing with odd input even if you don't get the connection quite right. It reminds me of the experiment where someone wore mirror glasses that flipped the world upside-down. After a week or so, everything seemed normal.
      • Stimulating specific optic nerves is tricky, but fortunately your brain is good at dealing with odd input even if you don't get the connection quite right.

        The cameras don't even have to stimulate the optic nerves. The brain adapts to what it senses. If you start to stimulate the finger-tips with image sensors, then guess what? You're going to be "seeing" through your fingertips...

        No reason a non-blind person can't have image sensors (or any kind of sensors like motion, magnetic, neutrinos..) attached t
        • by Xerxes1729 ( 770990 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @01:12AM (#15073570)
          Uh, no. "Image sensors", like eyes, don't produce a signal that is fundamentally different from the signals produced by any other sensory organ. What matters is where in the location in the brain to which those signals are directed. Although I'm not certain, I'd guess that this is why the technique won't work on those who were never able to see - they never developed the necessary neural connections in the brain for vision.
      • It reminds me of the experiment where someone wore mirror glasses that flipped the world upside-down. After a week or so, everything seemed normal.

        You can actually train your brain to do this quite quickly. Many years ago, I had a job setting out survey grids using a Wild T16 theodolite which inverted the view through the eyepiece. I'd spend hours peering through the lens, and initially at least, it was a disorienting experience to switch to the real world. After a while though, my brain worked it out and

      • by MK_CSGuy ( 953563 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @04:55AM (#15074323)
        It reminds me of the experiment where someone wore mirror glasses that flipped the world upside-down. After a week or so, everything seemed normal. .lla ta melborp on htiw noisiv lamron ot kcab detsujdaer I ees nac uoy sA .tnemirepxe taht ni trap koot yllautca I
    • And that's just the beginning. Soon, you'll just plug your brain right into a computer. Instant access to information. Try coming up with fair knowledge assessments when everybody has the entire internet wired into their brain.

      Also, this would be a good alternative to LCD; now, you'll REALLY be able to see sounds. And when they do the same for the olfactory, you'll be able to smell colors...
    • To connect to the optic nerve? No, thanks, I think I'll use a goggle.
  • Resistance is futile...
  • Neato (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jrabbit05 ( 943335 )
    Maybe us geeks won't all go blind, well at least the ones of us that could afford this in our old age.
    • Heck, a lot of these geeks went blind in adolescence...
    • Maybe us geeks won't all go blind, well at least the ones of us that could afford this in our old age.

      Of course that all depends on whether or not the blindness we get from wanking is caused by degraded eyes or degraded brains...

  • Restrictions? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:49PM (#15072633)
    Why are there restrictions on research such as this? What kind of restrictions and how did they come about?
    • Re:Restrictions? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by amliebsch ( 724858 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:16PM (#15072790) Journal
      There have been restrictions in place for a long time for a variety of reasons. Most of all, it has to do with preventing medical experimentation on people who feel they have nothing left to lose, which could result in exploitation, particularly for ambitious doctors who want to make a name for themselves. So now, to justify such experiments, a lot of work has to go into validating the theoretical research, evaluating the potential risks, and justifying the potential payoff.

      I do feel it has become too much though - I don't believe it is the government's job to prevent us from making rash decisions.

    • by x2A ( 858210 )
      TFA paints a very different picture:

      He says, right now, governmental restrictions may get in the way of performing the surgery in the United States. "There were no governmental or hospital problems with getting permission to do the experimental operation in Portugal, whereas, it would be almost impossible here. Plus, it was much cheaper -- about one-third of the cost in the hospital as it would be in U.S. hospitals," he says

      Nowhere does it say anything about government restrictions on the research :-/

  • Last I heard -- several years ago -- they had enough resolution to see a a black/white machine just about comperable to a single ASCII character rendered on a 1985 era CRT. That would mean an "image" would have about as much clarity as, say, one of the falling mushrooms from an original Centipeded game. Not exactly high res, but a positive step.
    • With a nice machine crunching video into edges, I guess even a 32x32 image could be useful to show the edges of sidewalks, obstructions etc. All sounds well within the scope of a PDA-level CPU.
      • From a goals perspective, there are major leaps forward:

        * ability to avoid obstacles
        * ability to see individual people
        * ability to differentiate between people
        * ability to discern expressions
        * ability to read enlarged print
        * ability to operate visually oriented equipment
        * ability to read normally
        * ability to drive

        Taking things one step at a time, its a long road but hopefully one that is linear rather than logarythmically difficult.
    • I'm dusting off old neurons for this, but somewhere around 1980, Popular Electronics had a short article on something like this. A small camera was connected to a grid on the blind p[erson's back. I want to say that the resolution was 128x128, but that may just be because this would be the grid of a 16k dynamic ram at that time. Someone who was in the experiment claimed that he got about the resolution of a small, fuzzy black and white television (but how could he make that comparison).

  • DARPA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MadUndergrad ( 950779 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:49PM (#15072638)
    If they're not already, DARPA will be all over this like stink on a monkey. They'd love to have soldiers will what will amount to wallhacks.

    On an unrelated note, if they could make it so that they didn't need to cut open my head to do it, I'd love to have infrared/ultraviolet/telescopic/ultrasonic vision.
  • Not optic nerve. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by incom ( 570967 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:50PM (#15072642)
    Article states that electrodes are implated into the back of the brain. If it really were the optic nerve it would be more significant, less danger = wider adoption.
    • Re:Not optic nerve. (Score:5, Informative)

      by HermanAB ( 661181 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:13PM (#15072783)
      The optical nerve goes to the back of the brain.
      • And this is a blind person. The rest of the optic nerve may not be very useful.
      • by MacJedi ( 173 )
        The optical nerve goes to the back of the brain.

        This is true only in an extremely simplified model of vision. In any rate, it is beside the point. The summary indicates that the implant targets the optic nerve. This is simply not true. The Dobelle implant sends signals directly to visual cortex-- it bypasses the retina, optic nerve and lateral geniculate nucleus and incidentally also bypassing a great deal of visual processing.

        There are researchers who are making visual prosthetics that target the optic

    • Your visual cortex is at the back of your brain - my guess is the optic nerve isn't wireless, so much reach there. Oh how cool if it was wireless! Could use implants without having to open up... although to danger of bluetooth viruses could make it just as dangerous. New warning: don't look at attachments unless you know who's sending them to you!

  • by Ankou ( 261125 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:51PM (#15072655)
    How ironic, I just so happen to find this site today! Why go for this when Lasik is an easy to do at home project? Check it out here [lasikathome.com]. I guess after you sear your eyeball as in step 3, you can replace it with one of those cameras.
    • I honestly can't tell which... it's brilliant, though, either way. What's next, the home cataract removal kit? "Gutcrafters: Kidney transplants in about an hour"?
      • What's next, the home cataract removal kit? "Gutcrafters: Kidney transplants in about an hour"?
        I was thinking "Lipo@home": a cheap, compact kit consisting of some anesthetic, a sharpie marker to plot out the cut, a scalpel, an adapter for your home vacuum cleaner, and a bandaid for afterwards. That should put an end to the "obesity epidemic"!
  • Guess (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Boronx ( 228853 ) <evonreis@nOSpaM.mohr-engineering.com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:52PM (#15072661) Homepage Journal
    Without reading the article, I will guess that this sort of advancement will benefit those who have lost their sight but not those who never had it.
    • Yeah...

      I read a study a few years back about someone who lost his sight before he really understood the world -- like when he was 6 months old. Somehow, he regained his sight, but he went crazy.

      His mind couldn't process the images he was picking up: he'd been able to touch animals his whole life, but he couldn't make the connection between the feel and the sight. See, your brain makes connections when you are about 3 years old. It learns what's what, and what you should expect about the world. IIRC, h

  • by cyberied ( 773639 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:53PM (#15072670) Homepage
    Another strategy was just invented: if you lost your photoreceptors, just make the other neurons in the retina or brain sensitive to light. A group just managed this today, for the first time, in mice. Blind mice, who had been treated with viruses that cause the targeted cells to express light-activated channels, were able to regain transmission of information about the external world to cortex. This was recently reported in a blog [neurodudes.com], and in other media.
  • by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:53PM (#15072672)
    So sad that massive bureaucracy and misinformation makes this kind of research too difficult and expensive.
  • hmm! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by virgil_disgr4ce ( 909068 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:54PM (#15072673) Homepage
    I must admit, I find it very difficult to trust any "journalism" with that many exclamation marks: "With the help of a device, she could see again!" This is written a lot like a press release, not a news article. Has this not been published in any major scientific journals?
  • by BioCS.Nerd ( 847372 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:54PM (#15072675) Homepage
    I didn't quite understand from the article why this procedure was prevented in the US, aside from cost. Could anyone shed some light on the matter?
    • by blincoln ( 592401 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:06PM (#15072740) Homepage Journal
      I didn't quite understand from the article why this procedure was prevented in the US, aside from cost.

      This is more or less the same technique that's been researched for decades - I saw a film (as opposed to videotape) of it in junior high when I was a kid.

      There are a number of problems - as others have mentioned, it tends to cause seizures in its users. IIRC this is because the apparatus itself is fairly crude and overloads the part of the brain it's connected to. It also doesn't work very well - the resolution now is not a whole lot better than back then.

      Obviously an argument can be made that someone who loses their sight may consider any visual ability valuable enough to outweigh the risks, but in this case I think the FDA is right. This particular technology is not mature enough to allow as a commercial product. There are others in development that IMO are more promising.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I believe that this stems from certain governmental regulations and restrictions on medical research, notably FDA approval of implantable medical devices. It takes quite a bit of testing and analysis before that approval is given. If I remember correctly, the cited news articles states that a major complication in this regard was the possibility of infection at the point of entry through the skull into the brain.
    • While I don't the whole story, it seems that Dobelle, who had been working on artificial vision since at least the 1970s, eventually got tired of the slow regulatory process which his visual prosthetics faced in the US and, since he was independently wealthy from some of his other medical device inventions, moved his base research to Portugal, where he could more easily gain access to patients.
  • she doesn't have to wear that stupid hairband over her eyes anymore.

    Geordi will be so happy when he learns about this!
  • by shizzle ( 686334 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:55PM (#15072687)
    Note that patients need to have had sight in the past for this device to work. The visual cortex doesn't develop in people that were born blind, so their brain doesn't know what to do with these inputs. (Like in the movie "At First Sight".)

    Pretty cool nonetheless.

    • It's the first few weeks/months (not sure exactly how long) that affect whether the brain will be able to interpret the signals from the eye.

      When a child's born they do various health checks. If the kid has been born blind they'll spot it then. Sometimes it can be fixed with an operation, which if they do it quickly enough will allow the child to see fine. This would be the same - if they do the implant quickly enough the child should be able to 'see'.

      OK, so it's still no good for anyone who's already aroun
  • I recall seeing something like this late last year, but it was slightly different. In principle the same thing - electrodes connected into the optic nerve - but in this case it was a set of 16 electrodes in a 4x4 array. Essentially they had the guy equipped with the tech put a pair of glasses on that had a camera in the center. Each frame was broken down into the aforementioned 4x4 grid, and then delivered directly into the optic nerve. 4x4 is not exactly high resolution though, so the guy was only really a
  • Turning it off? (Score:2, Interesting)

    What I wonder about is if this woman is able to not see. To put it another way, is the camera always on? Can she turn it off to go to sleep, or does she have to cover it? And does it require a power source? If so, how did they do it? Some technical specs on this would be awesome.

    On the plus side, she could probably watch a solar eclipse without special glasses. That would be awesome.

    • On the plus side, she could probably watch a solar eclipse without special glasses. That would be awesome.
      Ooh - a pattern of white dots in the shape of a solar eclipse - spectacular :)
  • by Khashishi ( 775369 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:05PM (#15072739) Journal
    Can I replace my monitor with a direct optical link?
    • Can I replace my monitor with a direct optical link?

      yes, when you've implemented hardware based DRM to protect the channel for the movie... wouldn't want you snooping on those bits now would we... you might be making a copy of the protected content...

  • by CorporalKlinger ( 871715 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:12PM (#15072778)
    It's important to note that due to the way the human brain develops synaptic connections in the visual cortex, only humans who had sight from birth to some age beyond 3 to 5 years of age will benefit a great deal from such a procedure. While people who are blind from birth due to cataracts or other conditions obtain some visual perception when the cataract is later removed, most never develop the neural connections that allow them to identify what they're seeing. Everything from navigating around desks in a well-lit classroom to differentiating a face from a table, a television, a light bulb, or an automobile is all but impossible if the visual cortex doesn't develop properly in response to normal visual stimulus from birth. Sight is useless without the ability to percieve what one is really seeing. So while this is incredibly impressive and promising for people who had sight but lost it, don't expect that this will be a cure-all to allow people with all types of blindness to see again.
    • I once met a fellow who was blind, but he explained there was nothing wrong at all with his eyes or his optic nerve. He had a condition that disturbed the part of the brain that governs perception. He could see things but couldn't perceive at all what they were which made him effectively blind. Sadly, this new technology wouldn't do a thing for him.
    • I know its just (science) fiction, but it is a rather good book, about a woman who was blind since birth attempting to see via a device and going quite insane.
  • by M0b1u5 ( 569472 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:13PM (#15072780) Homepage
    This is the start of something wonderful. The Auditory nerves have already been hacked, and we are well down the path towards providing 1,024 channels of sound to persons who have lost their hearing due to ear damage, or malformed ear hardware.

    Hacking the Optic Nerve is the Next Big Thing because humans get 90% of all sensory input via the optic nerve. Once you've cracked that you're 90% of the way towards very, very advanced cyborgs, with the 'net being ubiquitously available, and displaying as a HUD-type device over our normal vision, or as a 6 foot screen when the eyes are closed.

    Simultaneous to these developments, we are already taking steps towards being able to offer ages people perfect memories again, by the introduction of the artificial hippocampus. (To my knowledge there are no people, as yet, with this device, but it works in Rats)

    Having the ability to crack the "memory code" of our brains with a better hippocampus, and allowing our brains to use external storage ("wet-wiring"?), coupled with optic and auditory nerve implants is going to allow humans to improve themselves mentally beyond the limits which evolution, chemistry and brain size have created.

    I can't wait for my implants!

    I hope they won't run windows Brain-Edition though.
  • by EverDense ( 575518 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:36PM (#15072858) Homepage
    Sounds like the ultimate peripheral for Duke Nukem Forever.
  • I'd like to know what the heck kind of laws we have that make this type of operation illegal to do in the US...
    • Re:I for one.... (Score:3, Interesting)

      Many countries have extensive laws regulating experimenting on human subjects, and make no mistake, this surgery is completely experimental. One of the big questions is how can a person give informed consent when the risks are considerable and the benefits not known. The laws are a two-edged sword. In this case the surgery had dramatic results and hasn't killed the patient, so the laws and regulations look stupid. On the other hand, if the story had been "6 patients killed in ill-considered experiment in Po
    • Basicly, its the FDA concerned about giving approval for any kind of medical implant that hasnt been fully tested yet.
    • laws restricting experimantal surgeries on human subjects.

      this has nothing to do with Bushitler
  • peripheral vision? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by badrobot ( 864703 )
    At some point these devices may have enough resolution to do things like read a book. But, unless the camera is somehow connected to your real eye muscles it seems like there might be a problem....

    As I read my computer screen right now, if I try to notice how my eyes move, I think I can really only read the word that my eyes are directly pointed at. I don't know if this phenomenon is a function of how the eye works or how the brain's visual center works or a combination of the two.

    So, my question is,

    • The optic muscles can be trained to move other objects. I know three people with one glass eye each and the glass one moves with the real one. They say it takes several years to get it working (one of them had it in 2 and the others closer to 5. Sounds like a more specefic variant of physical therapy to me. They all say it is concentration and repetition. Think of the mini cams available today and get one small enough to fit in a glass eye and be connected to the optic nerve, that would be a breakthrough! I
  • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:46PM (#15072895) Homepage Journal
    Did anyone else read that as breast implants that let the blind see? Until i stopped and comprehended for a second I had some interesting visions flashing through my mind. Get bigger boobs and replace those nipples with transplanted eyeballs! Sounds like a character off some cheap Star Trek knock-off.
  • Did anyone else think breast implants when reading the headline? I figure they could be seeing in brail with such implants....
  • Scary stuff (Score:2, Funny)

    by Kangburra ( 911213 )
    Restistance is futile!

    It's all starting to come together. :-(
  • The larger issue (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:54PM (#15072938)
    Bravo to the technological feat itself but I find this part an all-too common thing these days:

    There are also governmental restrictions on this research, forcing Kenneth and his team to fly to Portugal to carry out the operation. If this technology takes off, the future will be bright for the sight-impaired."

    I find it troubling that more and more developments have to be taken out of America simply to make it happen, just like stem-cell research. I'm wonder if the people behind the loud, irritating moral voice against this type of research will have any qualms using the advances/benefits when they need them?
  • ...we'll all have cameras for eyes and direct connections to the internet from our brains like in Ghost in the Shell [manga.com]. But it are the benefits really worth becoming a "ghost in a shell"? After all just wait until you get hacked are infected by the parallel Individual 11 virus.
  • Upskirt (Score:2, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )
    Put your "eyes" on your shoes, and walk close to some skirtage.
  • Right now such things are pretty rudimentary, requiring external power and an external device. In the end, as microtechnology and knowledge of the human body progresses, one would hope that such technology could be more of a "drop in" replacement (that is to say, perhaps they could put it right in the eye socket and then allow for normal eye movement, etc).

    In addition, rather than relying on external power sources, perhaps in the future it can use something like a dracucell [slashdot.org] to power it, which would probab
  • by spuckupine ( 764161 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:59AM (#15074467)
    I'm a student at UCLA working on a similar project called Retinal Prosthetic writing code in Visual C++ and Intel's OpenCV library. Check out their site:

    http://www.judylab.org/research/projects/George/in dex.htm [judylab.org]

    We're running a simulation of what the surgeon is doing by having the subject wear goggles with a s-video input (it's those fancy expensive goggles to watch movies or to game on). Similar to the article, a camera is attached to the front of the goggles. The input feeds into the computer, chugs through my code, and displays an image meant to simulate varying amounts of electrodes (4x4, 16x16, 64x64) in various configurations (wide screen vision anyone?). All this goes on while the subject tries to accomplish tasks (writing a check, discerning between a fork and knife, etc).

    Also, check out a company working on implementing this idea:

    http://www.2-sight.com/ [2-sight.com]
  • RP (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Yorkshire Tyke ( 966513 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:55AM (#15074595) Homepage
    Joking aside, I find this very interesting. I have a hereditory, degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retinitis_pigmentosa [wikipedia.org]) which I was diagnosed with when I was very young. Being hereditory my Mum, Nan and Uncle all have this condition as well, and I have also found older relatives on cencuses who are marked down as 'blind', probably indicating that they also had the condition.

    The condition worsens with age, so at the moment I am not too bad. I don't have any night vision and so I struggle in dark rooms or out at night time, but during the day I am OK. As people with RP get older, especially into 40s, 50s and beyond blind spots can develop, as well as tunnel vision or even total loss of vision.

    I was surpised recently to find out that our car park attendant Dave here at work also has the condition since it is very rare (I think approximately 10,000 people of 56 million in the UK have it). Dave is in his 50s and in the last six months his vision has deteriorated rapidly such that he was registered partially sighted and the actually registered blind. He now has to walk with a white stick and has been retired from work, which is a lot to come to terms with in the space of a year or so. Sadly it took him more by surprise because it had skipped a generation in his genes and so neither of his parents had it and could explain it to him.

    I am only 24, it gives me hope to think that in the next 25 years or so this research may develop to the point where it is commonplace, and that if I did lose my sight I would simply be able to book an appointment to get my visor fitted and that would be the end of it!

  • by tradeoph ( 691427 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @07:14AM (#15074644)
    In other news, the US congress just passed a law that would make it mandatory to fit these camera devices with a new DRM technology that blocks unlicensed contents. You will only see what the *AA (or the government) wants you to see...
  • Summary is incorrect (Score:3, Informative)

    by Illserve ( 56215 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @07:24AM (#15074667)
    The device stimulates the brain directly, not the optic nerve. Stories like this have been kicked around the block for quite awhile.

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