For people who are blind, there are not many options out there. But with the advancement in technology, there are new opportunities to restore vision for blind people. In the academic journal of Nature, a group of researchers from the United States, Hong Kong, and China, introduced a revolutionary bionic eye prototype that can mimic a human eye's shape and movement.
Now, a crucial part of an eye's design is its shape. To a regular person, achieving the form of an eye doesn't sound like a hard task, but in reality, it's one of the hardest things to accomplish. The issue starts with the concave shape of the retina, which is the photoreceptor-laden layer of tissue at the back of the eye, which helps the eye-catch more light, hence its curve. But replicating the curved shape is a challenge entirely on its own, and it has been tough for researchers to achieve.
In the past, researchers didn't have much success. They failed when using approaches that relied on creating photo-sensor on flat surfaces and then folding them into the shape of a curve. The issue was that this concept limited the density of photo-sensors and weakened the resolution of the bionic eye.
But from the paper published in the academic journal of Nature, researchers found a new and successful concept when it comes to the bionic eye. The researchers had found a way to build photo-sensors right into the hemispherical artificial retina. Doing this allowed them to create a bionic eye that mimics the field of view, resolution, and responsiveness, similar to the human eye. In the paper, it read, "The device design has a high degree of structural similarity to a human eye, with the potential to achieve high imaging resolution when individual nano-wires are electrically addressed."
Hongrui Jiang, an engineer at the University of Wisconsin Madison, writes in the published paper, "The structural mimicry of Gu and colleagues' artificial eye is certainly impressive, but what makes it truly stand out from previously reported devices is that many of its sensory capabilities compare favorably with those of its natural counterpart." But with everything, it has its weaknesses. The significant limitation for the bionic eye right now is the wiring of the photo-sensors, as there's a limited amount of space in the back of the retina. Yet, even with the limitations, the bionic eye can improve on biological eyes. And as they continue developing the bionic eye, the barriers will be significantly reduced.
Will we be seeing the bionic eye worn by people soon? Though the bionic eye is physically ready for human implantation when it comes to shape, there are animal and human trials being lined up before its release. Zhiyong Fan, The co-author of the paper, from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, says that it will take up to 5 years before the bionic eye will be applied to humans. However, it could be used in the robotic industry as it is without much change. "Given these advances, it seems feasible that we might witness the wide use of artificial and bionic eyes in daily life within the next decade," writes Jiang. As technology continues to push the boundaries, we can only imagine what the bionic eye will look like and be able to do in the next decade.