Ever since mankind dreamt up the concept of science fiction, there’s been an ongoing, often hilarious, contrast between the way we imagine the future and the way it actually turns out when it finally arrives. The appalling lack of flying cars is the most famous example, but the list of overreaching SF predictions is almost endless. Thankfully, even though our own present falls short of science fiction benchmarks such as interstellar travel or laser swords, the world around us is pushing the technological frontiers in ways once thought nearly as far-fetched. Case in point: Second Sight’s Argus II Retinal Prosthesis, which is basically Geordi’s First Contact implants brought to life.
Okay, they’re not quite as snazzy as Geordi’s peepers. I doubt they’ll let you scan the infrared spectrum for anomalies, but if you or a loved one suffers from vision problems, this could change your world in far more practical ways. According to a new press release (PDF), a clinical trial of the device was recently concluded with very promising results. Thirty patients implanted with the tech performed computer tests designed to grade improvement in three specific areas: “square localization, direction of motion and grating visual acuity.” The patients were also tasked with finding a door across a room and following a white line on the floor. You can read the release for the specifics of the results, but Dr. Stanislao Rizzo, the first surgeon to implant the Argus II system, summed it up with these powerful words: “The Argus II can, quite simply, help the blind see.”
So how does the Argus II work? The video below explains the concept, but the quick version is that a camera mounted on glasses sends data to the implant on the eye, which in turn transmits visual data directly to the optic nerve. While the best results achieved by the trial were the equivalent of 20/1262 vision, that’s a hell of an improvement when your alternative is blindness. And with this technology finally coming together, it can only improve over time. We may yet see a time within our lifetimes when blindness is a thing of the past.