Bionic eyes: Outdated technology leaves patients in the dark

Adam Mendelsohn, CEO of Nano Precision Medical, with whom Second Sight plans to merge, said he would consider the IEEE’s concerns once the merger, scheduled for mid-2022, is complete.

“I plan to make this one of our priorities if and when I accept my leadership position in the combined company,” said Mendelsohn.

According to the Second Sight website, Argus II offers life-changing benefits for people with visual impairments, including “enjoying mobility and independence.”

“Our mission is to develop neurostimulation technology to improve the lives of the blind, supporting our current users,” he says.

But IEEE Spectrum reports that in 2019 Second Sight deactivated its retinal implants – effectively replacing the photoreceptors in the eye to create a form of machine vision.

He says the company nearly went bankrupt in 2020 and is now targeting a brain device — the Orion — that also provides computer vision and offers limited support to the roughly 350 that have implants.

Expensive technology

Surgery to implant the device typically takes several hours and is followed by post-operative training to help users interpret signals from their devices.

The site also promises updates. “As technology improves, so does your Argus II implant, without the need for additional surgery. Enjoy programming flexibility and the ability to make future hardware and software upgrades.”

The system consists of the implant, special glasses with a built-in camera, and a video processing unit (VPU) that is attached to the user’s waist.

The camera in the glasses sends the video to the VPU, which converts the images into black and white pixel patterns and sends it back to a responder in the glasses, which in turn wirelessly relays it to an antenna outside the eye.

A series of electrodes implanted behind the retina receive stimulation patterns from the wearer’s glasses and stimulate the eye by creating flashes of light that correspond to the video input and are sent from the implant to the optic nerve to create a kind of computer vision. †

It’s a smart, innovative technology that took decades to make and hasn’t come cheap, estimated at $150,000 (£110,000) excluding surgery and post-op training.

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