Researchers from the University of Minnesota have built an image sensing bionic eye prototype that could restore sight to the blind and help sighted people see better.
In their research published in the journal Advanced Materials on Tuesday, the team described how they used a custom-built 3D printer to build their first-of-its-kind bionic eye prototype. They started by printing a base ink of silver particles on the inside of a hemispherical glass dome. This demonstrated their ability to print electronics on a curved surface. Then, they used semiconducting polymer materials to print photodiodes to convert light into electric signals, on top of the silver base.
The entire procedure took about an hour to construct a fully 3D printed bionic eye that could convert light into electricity with 25% efficiency.
This eye cannot be transplanted into a human in the near future as a glass dome fitted on a person’s eye socket will definitely not be comfortable. The team is now figuring out a way to 3D print on a soft hemispherical material and integrate additional light receptors to increase the device’s efficiency.
Still, as co-author Michael McAlpine noted team’s prototype as a significant step forward in a press release, by saying, “Bionic eyes are usually thought of as science fiction, but now we are closer than ever using a multi-material 3D printer”.
This study shows that the 3D-printed semiconductors are just as efficient as the devices produced in microfabrication facilities and high-tech labs equipped with cutting-edge equipment for small-scale engineering. As 3D printers can basically do the same thing, more researchers can now explore the creation of inventions that use semiconductors, irrespective of access to these sophisticated facilities.
This success also reveals a way to print semiconductors on a curved surface which McAlpine claims is impossible at those facilities.
McAlpine drive to tackle the challenge of creating a bionic eye is personal as his mother can’t see out of one eye. But people with eyesight problems aren’t the only ones who can potentially benefit from such devices. Bionic eyes could in due course improve the sight of anyone maybe even providing superhuman vision seen in futuristic movies.
Till then, the team will work on developing a more usable bionic eye.