Retinal Implant Helps Blind People Read, Seeing-Eye Dogs Plan Coup

By Nick Venable | Published

There are days, especially around the greedy-man-first holidays, when I long for simpler times that were either dying out as I grew up in the 1980s, or were only there in the first place because I was a kid. As if I were blind to what was going on around me. Oh look, a barely thought-out segue.

Simpler times means the company Second Sight wouldn’t have created the Argus II, a revolutionary device able to turn letters and simple shapes into visual information to blind patients, particularly those with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative and genetic retina disease. The researchers presented their results in the journal Frontiers in Neuroprosthetics. Like most sight enhancers, this involves a pair of glasses, but these are wirelessly sending information to the retina through a microchip implanted onto the retina itself. I almost have to take an insurance policy out just reading about something attached to an eyeball.

The glasses, seemingly updated versions of Bret “The Hitman” Hart’s mirrored lenses, have a small camera mounted in the center which transmits the visual signal to the 10×6 grid of electrodes on the chip, stimulating six of them to project a rudimentary image into the brain. Of course, the first step is reading letters.

For the clinical test, a single patient was used, and he reached up to 89% accuracy while reading individual letters, each taking less than a second. Tests used both single letters and words ranging from two to four letters. Each letter was shown for half a second, and the patient had an 80% success rate with the short words. I think that’s all a person needs to text or post on Twitter, right? Here’s a video visually explaining things.

Fifty patients have now been implanted with the device, and many are able to see color, movement, and certain objects. Since the technology to be enhanced isn’t part of the retina’s chip, it presents a hefty advantage for researchers. The hope is to now adapt the device to include letter and image recognition software, providing a potentially faster method of reading and seeing.