Spanish neuro-engineer Eduardo Fernandez has developed a bionic eye that is connected directly to the brain. The new bionic eye was tested on Bernardeta Gómez who has been blind for the last 16 years.
Fernandez’s work was featured in MIT Technology Review. His system uses a pair of glasses fitted with a camera that is connected to a computer. The computer converts the camera’s live feed into electrical signals that are then sent to Bernardeta’s brain through a cable connected to a port which is embedded in the back of her skull.
Gomez has an implant placed in the visual cortex of her brain. The port connects the system to this implant. The testing was conducted for six months – which had been the approved time period. She has almost 100 electrodes implanted inside her head.
In the course of six months, Gomez was able to use the system to see a low-resolution version of the world around her. This is very promising even though what she effectively saw in her mind was little more than glowing dots. It was enough for her to distinguish between letters, light and people.
“Berna was our first patient, but over the next couple of years, we will install implants in five more blind people. We had done similar experiments in animals, but a cat or a monkey can’t explain what it’s seeing,” says Mr Fernandez.
Several researchers have worked previously for creating a bionic eye. Most of those projects centred around implanting the device to the eye itself. So for such devices to work, one must have a working eye and a working optic nerve. This is were Fernandez’s device makes the better stride forward. His device skips the need for having an eye altogether.
In future, if the research indeed turns into a safe and viable product a lot more number of people can be cured of blindness.