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.

The retinal implant and glasses of the Argus II. Pic from Wired Science.taken by Mark Humayun

The retinal implant and glasses of the Argus II. Pic from Wired Science.taken by Mark Humayun

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 entire Argus II system. Pics from Second Sight.

The entire Argus II system. Pics from Second Sight.

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.

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