Image Sensor Implants Used as Makeshift Eyes for the Blind

Image sensors and the advent of digital imaging have been met with differing reactions from the photographical community. But what a team of doctors at the Oxford Eye Hospital have managed to do with the technology is 100% digital, and 100% amazing. Clinical trial leaders Robert MacLaren and Tim Jackson have helped two blind men to partially see again.

This miraculous feat was achieved by implanting a 3mm square, 1,500 pixel sensor at the back of each eye; the sensors are then connected to the patient’s optic nerves and a control chip implanted behind their ear. The sensor, which was developed by the German company Retina Implant AG, can then send signals down the optic nerve to the brain each time it detects light.

At this point the two formerly-blind patients, Chris James and Robin Millar, can only perceive light and some basic shapes; but as more time goes on the hope is that each patient’s brain will begin to better interpret the signals coming from the implant.

Of course the treatment is still in its very early stages, but this could eventually mean significantly improved, black-and-white vision for people who have lost the ability to see entirely — a bonafide miracle. And none of this would be possible without two 0.0015 megapixel image sensors.

(via BBC News)

  • Zak Henry

    with a 38×38 sensor I think basic shapes will be the limit of the system, regardless of what magic the brain can work with the signals.

  • mythbuster

    Maybe in a near future all cameras and phones will be inside us… terrifying!

  • Luj

    can they take pictures from this sensor ?

  • Ben Marshall

    I have been thinking about this for years…  Blindness, might be more simple than we think it is… we have nearly 200 systems in our brain designated solely to vision.  Muscles, nerves, and tissue that is nowhere else in the body and is completely irreparable once defeated. 

    The fact that eyes are actually considered brain tissue, which due to is place in the Cranium, can not grow, and repair is done by remapping, it makes sense to me, that if the eyes are damage, the brain simply discards them, in a fashion to protect itself. 

    I think of the SAW-STOP videos, and wonder if its not the eye that is damaged, but the brain has done an emergency shut down of that section… in order to protect vital function.

    If this holds true, the sensor in the eye, is likely still functional, dependent on what damage was taken, it could be reset the same way vocal paralysis is cured…

    This is a hunch to be honest… but I haven’t heard of anyone trying this technique.

    For the record, I have near blind vision in one eye since childbirth, which may or may not be reparable at some point.

  • 9inchnail

    Why would they? You have to realize that 1500 pixels is NOTHING. An icon on your windows desktop has a higher resolution than this (48×48 pixels).

  • Ig3660

    38×38 could be plenty. Try reducing photographs of people’s faces to
    38×38 and you’d be still able to recognize them! It could also be
    possible to read very large letters and do other stuff.

    But there is another detail that should be considered: visually impaired people have their brains rewired to use much more efficiently other senses (check “neuroplasticity”). Thus, while 38×38 would be a limitation to most of us, to a visually impaired person it for sure would provide amazing amount of new information available for processing. Combined with much more developed processing of inputs from other senses, it becomes clear that we can not even imagine what 38×38 would mean to them. And even in this case of two patients with implants, until brain rewires itself to properly process inputs we can not tell for sure how efficient the system really is.

    As a final word, it is important to highlight that sensors do not have low resolution due to limitation in sensor fabrication, but for the reason of limitations in sensor to brain interface. They could probably put a 1 megapixel sensor, but “soldering” 1 million wires to the brain would be impossible.

  • will hall

    1500 pixels? that’s rediculous. Its stupid to put that many pixels onto a sensor that size especially with such a simple, single element lens ( the design hasnt changed in millions of years). Surely the patient would prefer to have fewer pixels with better noise charachteristics, afterall they already get plenty of noise through their ears.

  • Sukiyaki12

    Now we just need telephoto zoom lenses in our eyes and I will WANT to go blind! For science! 

  • pp77

    Image, if you did not see anything, but then can see your child again, that is what you want, when you are blind. You need to know, that the image you get in your brain is black & white only with this chip. And it is really unsharp. Only contrasts can be seen. But working with the company which originally developed this chip, I can tell you that the people which were blind and are know able to see contrasts again are more than happy. In Germany (Tuebingen University Hospital) several people have received the chips before the international study including Oxford was started. Unfortunately some chips stoped working after a few month only, but even these people are very happy to haven been able to see for a certain time.

  • Matt

    Very cool, a good step in the direction of vison for the blind.  Hopefully the tech for interfacing with the brain will continue to evolve at a fast rate.