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The “Bionic Eye” That Lets Blind People See for the First Time

The Argus II device is no ordinary pair of glasses.

It includes a breakthrough technology that’s helping blind people see for the first time.

Developed by California firm Second Sight, Argus II is designed for people who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

RP is a progressive, degenerative eye disease, characterized by the loss of light-sensing receptors in the retina. The disease usually causes night blindness first, followed by daytime vision later. Other symptoms include both a lack of peripheral vision and tunnel vision, blurriness, trouble adjusting between light-to-dark and dark-to-light environments, and fatigue.

Because it’s progressive, the symptoms can be unpredictable, and there’s no known cure.

But Argus II is a two-part system that’s giving sufferers some sight.

Part 1 includes a video camera in the center of the glasses. This records what the wearer is looking at, and the images are sent to a small portable computer worn on a belt or shoulder strap.

The computer filters and compiles the data into one image. Then Part 2 kicks in. The image is sent wirelessly to a prosthetic implant attached to the person’s retina. The person is able to make out letters, shapes, patterns and colors.

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Research is continuing, with developers working on a system that will enable users to read Braille with their eyes, rather than fingers.

As Second Sight’s Senior Research Scientist, Thomas Lauritzen, reveals: “We can look at a letter, a regular letter, and translate it into Braille. The process of reading regular letters we can basically speed up using this Braille technique. Imagine if you haven’t been able to see anything to be able to see some aspects.”

Indeed, one patient confirms, “Being able to see with this system is very significant. You really do get the sense that there’s something palpable there… It’s very exciting to see that you can do things, even though they may be very minor things, which would have been completely impossible before.”