I teach human biology, and when we get to senses, I always talk about the cochlear implant that allows deaf people to hear. However, for vision replacement, I always had to use science fiction as the example, specifically G’Kar’s eye from Babylon 5, because we hadn’t created the technology. That’s not true any more.
I knew we were getting close, because we had computers that were able to translate brainwaves into a picture, so we were learning to language of sight in the brain. Now, we have the Argus II which can use a camera to visually track a scene and wirelessly send that picture to a retinal implant that stimulates the neurons to reproduce a very similar picture.
The device isn’t perfect, and it mostly allows for large objects, edges, shadows, and such so that a person can walk around a room or go through a doorway. Some of them show people colors, but many are just black and white. It also requires the user to wear both the glasses and a video processing unit, either like a small purse or around your waist, so that the signals can be converted effectively.
Check out an animation of how it works here.
Next up: digital smelling systems.