A visual prosthetic that helps visually-impaired individuals to see shapes and colors.
Argus is the greek God with a hundred eyes. The myth inspired the name of the Argus II, the world’s first device intended to restore some functional vision for those suffering from blindness. “You have to learn to see again, but people who have this implant were people that used to see,” says Dean Lloyd, one of the few patients thus far to receive the implant.
The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis is surgically implanted in and on the eye. It includes an antenna, an electronics case and an electrode array. It has has a miniature video camera in the eye glasses that captures the scene. The device functionality is as follows: the video is processed by a small portable unit and is transformed into instructions which are sent back to the glasses. These instructions are then transmitted wirelessly to the implant in the eye, which consists of a receiver and an array of electrodes. Instructions are received and corresponding signals sent to the electrodes which emit small pulses of electricity. These pulses stimulate the retina’s remaining cells and are transmitted down the optic nerve conveying visual information to the brain which perceives patterns of light. Through this stimulation the perception of sight is perceived and patients learn to interpret visual patterns such as colors. Sadly, since it requires the optic nerve to be healthy, it won’t work on patients who have nerve damage or suffer from other kinds of blindness.
The device is the result of about 20 years of research and clinical trials. The tiny video camera, for example, is very close to what you’d find on a cellphone, says Dr. Robert Greenberg of Second Sight, the Sylmar, California-based company that developed Argus.
Second Sight is working on a software platform called Acuboost that would make updating previously manufactured Argus models as easy as updating your computer’s operating system, says Greenberg. This is especially important because the Argus is an implanted device which requires pretty invasive surgery, so software upgrades would benefit both new patients and patients who already have the implant. Currently, the company is developing algorithms to improve resolution, image focus and zooming. Their latest software can also automate brightness adjustments and enable color recognition. Argus II is approved for use in the United States and the European Union.
The implant inside the retina:
Animation that explains how the system works: