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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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  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 atomicstrawberry ( 955148 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:01PM (#15072718)
    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 able to distinguish light areas from dark.

    There was further research planned though. The next goal was to create a 64-electrode version (8x8), which should give the ability to distinguish large features in the image being viewed, such as being able to distinguish the approximate figure of someone standing just infront of you. Their eventual goal was to be able to also build essentially glass eyes which would have a camera mounted within and would remove the need to pass the electrodes through the skull and out underneath the skin to the area of the temple where the signal from the camera was delivered.

    Anyway, I'm not sure if this is more results from the same research, or another group working along similar lines. I unfortunately don't have a link to the older material and TFA is a bit sparse on details.
  • Turning it off? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sean0michael ( 923458 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:03PM (#15072726)
    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.

  • Re:Infrared? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AoT ( 107216 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:08PM (#15072752) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, until you get a virus.
  • peripheral vision? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by badrobot ( 864703 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:43PM (#15072882)
    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, if someone sees using a camera mounted on their glasses (or whatever) will they have to move their entire head for every tiny little adjustment in what they want to look at?? will they have the ability to see with equal clarity a whole field of things at once??

    If the first I think that would be a serious problem (not that they won't be happy to be able to see...). If it's the second then that could have some very cool advantages. For instance, if it works for one camera, how about 4 (one in each direction)?

  • 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?
  • by M0b1u5 ( 569472 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:16PM (#15073044) Homepage
    I bother to fuck because it is enjoyable, not just because it is a biological imperative. I assume your "why fucking bother" is an oblique and cunning allusion to evolutionary processes, rather than the frustrated ravings of a complete idiot and an utter fool.

    In answer to your question though:

    1) Natural Selection has already run its course, that's why.

    2) Because humans have an inate desire to improve themselves by any means possible, that's why.

    Evolution has used many tools over the last 14 or so billion years to advance itself. It used gravity to collapse gas clouds into suns, and supernova feces, similarly, into planets, then it used other laws of physics and chemistry to create planets like Earth. Survival of the fittest was evolution's tool during the emergence of creatures on Earth, and to create homo sapiens sapiens.

    Natural Selection is much reduced now - and so is survival of the fittest to a large degree. (Although those genuinely unable to survive are auto-aborted early in a pregnancy - an effect of survival of the fittest.)

    From natural selection and survival of the fittest, evolution is now turning its attention to Un-natural selection (or "technoselection" if you will), whereby humans are improved via the use of technology. Ultimately, this may lead to several different species of humans, and a far wider definition of "human".

    Ultimately of course, biology is a dead-end for evolution, and it seems likely to me that humans as we are now, are pretty much as far as biology can go. (It doesn't seem credible to think that bio-engineering could add infra-red ability to the human eye, add 100 petabytes of fault-free storage to the brain, create bones which will knit in an hour, harden bone until it's like metal, allow RF signals to be intercepted by the brain, or allow back-ups to be created should the worst occur.)

    The limits of biology are well known, and it's obvious to me, that unless we find a way to move humanity from biology into hardware, that evolution will leave humanity behind, and we'll be destined to the fate suffered by other evolutionary dead ends.

    If we don't pick up the mantle, I believe our self-aware creations will, and either way, this will lead to the pace of evolution kicking up yet another notch.

    Each stage of evolution, and each paradigm of evolution has taken roughly half as long to achieve its goals as the preceding paradigm. The paradigm of technology removes almost all constraints from the rate of change in technology, and hence evolution can increase its pace at a rate more suited to the paradigm.
  • Re:I for one.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CharlesEGrant ( 465919 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:17PM (#15073046)
    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 Portugal" the regulations would look wise. Google "Tuskegee Syphilis" and "Dr. Ewen Cameron" if you want to read about some really awful cases of human experimentation.

    I would imagine one of the question now is whether the patients are put at long term risk for a massive brain infection. Having a wire running directly into the brain from the outside world doesn't seem like a great idea to me.

  • by mozumder ( 178398 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:35PM (#15073133)
    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 to nerve cells of another part of their body. This would probably mean they're going to be losing whatever sense that it replaced, but then again, maybe stem-cells can be used to grow new nerve cells to attach new sensors. /someone should fund me.
  • by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @04:14AM (#15074216) Journal
    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 wouold automatically reorient when I switched back to the jigger. Clever little blob of meat, my brain.

  • 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: dex.htm []

    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: []
  • 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 ( []) 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!


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