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Bionic Eye -

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NARRATION

None of us really appreciate how vital our eyes are, until they fail. Over half of all blindness in
Australia is caused by retinal damage, such as macular degeneration. Using technology from the
highly successful bionic ear, this tiny chip could bring hope to those left in the dark.

Prof Anthony Burkitt

The technology has developed now to the point where it's really small enough and miniaturised
enough to be able to fit inside the eye.

NARRATION

"A G X Z D K" Today I'm getting my eyes tested but not by an optometrist.

Dr Paul Willis

How did I go?

Assoc Prof Nick Barnes

That's excellent. You're in the normal range.

Dr Paul Willis

Oh now that's a relief. I don't have to eat any more carrots.

NARRATION

Electronic engineers are making sure my vision is normal before I test drive Bionic Vision.

Assoc Prof Nick Barnes

Compared to standard human vision, the sorts of vison that we've seen in current implants is very
low resolution.

NARRATION

So what kind of image will blind people see when their implants are switched on? I'm about to find
out.

Dr Paul Willis

I'm not allowed to use my hands am I?

NARRATION

This maze may look simple but not through my eyes.

Dr Paul Willis

Looks like a corridoor coming down this way and hang on what's happening here...OK, there's a
corridor going that way too.

NARRATION

What I'm seeing is a very low resolution image made of black and white dots, which change in
unusual ways as I move.

Dr Paul Willis

Hang on what's going on here?

NARRATION

The bionic eye will look nothing like what I'm wearing. A small camera on a pair of glasses will
communicate with a tiny chip implanted in the retina. Electrodes on the implant will turn the
visual information into electrical impulses, which can be passed on to the visual cortex by
surviving neurons.

Prof Anthony Burkitt

Now the sort of image that people receive are quite different. With electrical stimulation - people
receive what are called phosphenes, these are flashes of light in the visual field.

NARRATION

Each electrode can deliver one phosphene or pixel if you like - so with 100 electrodes on the first
implant the visual information will be very limited. The challenge is to process the data in the
most useful way.

Assoc Prof Nick Barnes

Our task is to choose the information from those high resolution image streams to make sure that
we're able to provide excellent navigation and mobility.

NARRATION

By changing the intensity of the phosphenes, researchers are finding different ways to encode
nearby objects and depict depth, distance, brightness and contrast.

Dr Paul Willis

That doesn't look right. What's that black thing in front of me? That's...no, um, looks like
something floating in space... it's a box! Who did that? Ok, this isn't as easy for me.

NARRATION

How normal sighted people like me adapt to different simulations is key to deciding what
representations work the best.

Dr Paul Willis

It's another corner, it's a new corner, it's a hairpin! Handbrake turn. Wow, this is brilliant.

Assoc Prof Nick Barnes

You finished.

Dr Paul Willis

Done.

Assoc Prof Nick Barnes

How did you find it?

Dr Paul Willis

That was really interesting. It's a little disorientating but I could make out that there were
these corridors and I remember that box! You put that up there to trick me and I think I got away
with it.

NARRATION

The first retinal implant in 2013 should allow blind people basic navigational capabilities with
later versions allowing facial recognition and reading. All this and some fetching specs.

Dr Paul Willis

This is the future for the bionic eye.

Topics: Health, Technology

Reporter: Dr Paul Willis

Producer: Anja Taylor

Researcher: Faye Welborn

Camera: Ron Ekkel

Paul Simpson

Sound: Andrew Hogan

James Fisher

Editor: James Edwards

Story Contacts

Professor Anthony Burkitt

Director, Bionic Vision Australia

Assoc Prof Nick Barnes

Project Leader, NICTA

Related Info

Bionic Vision Australia