The very first bionic eye, the Argus II, will be ready for the general public by the end of 2013, according to a story in the Singularity Hub. It is designed to restore some measure of eyesight to people suffering from retinitis pigmentosa.
The Foundation Fighting Blindness defines retinitis pigmentosa or RP as “a group of inherited diseases causing retinal degeneration. The cell-rich retina lines the back inside wall of the eye. It is responsible for capturing images from the visual field. People with RP experience a gradual decline in their vision because photoreceptor cells (rods and cones) die. Forms of RP and related diseases include Usher syndrome, Leber’s congenital amaurosis, rod-cone disease, Bardet-Biedl syndrome, and Refsum disease, among others.”
The Argus II, developed by a company called “Second Sight,” consist of a series of implanted electrodes in the eye that feet visual information from a headset that looks like Google Glass down the optic nerve to the visual cortex. Wearers of the Argus II do not regain sight as most people know it. They are able to see outlines of objects to better identify them. Nor does the Argus II help people who have been blind for other reasons besides RP. The $1 million a piece system has been undergoing testing for the past several years.
Nevertheless the road to an eventual real life version of Star Trek’s Geordie La Forge’s VISOR has been mapped. “Second Sight” is already developing a new system called the Argus III that will contain more implants in the eye and will project visual information directly to the visual cortex, bypassing the optic nerve.
Eventually the company hopes to develop a system that will actually restore sight to the blind at better acuity than 20/20. That system is likely a number of years away. However it seems that the time in which at least some forms of blindness will become treatable conditions is at hand.