The Past, Present and Future of Bionic Vision

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The Past, Present and Future of Bionic Vision

Elliot Whaley 

Computing Research
Department of Computing Sciences
Villanova University, Villanova, Pa, 19085 

October 19, 2008

  1. Introduction

This research explores the development stages of bionic vision. In the beginning attempts to improve human vision were made by connecting head pieces to the brain to cure blindness. Later research led to the development of more advanced glasses called EyeTaps that went beyond correcting vision. The latest stage of development involves contact lenses that can aid a human to see better than 20/20 and link their vision to computer devices. Section 2 will cover the history of bionic vision leading up to its state today. Then in section 3 the various ways of implanting bionic technology is explored.

    1. Motivation

Bionic vision is an important area of research with a significant impact on blind people who, with the help of bionic vision, are capable of seeing again. Existing techniques include implanting computer chips in the human brain and using bionic glasses. The military can use these lenses to improve the vision of pilots or soldiers, a most important aid in battle. Video games, movies, iphones and computers could be brought right to a persons’ field of vision. Special contacts could be used by doctors to zoom in on a patient in the operating table.

  1. History of Bionic Vision

Bionic vision is the application of biological methods in nature combined with study of engineering and computer science dealing with vision. Advances in engineering and computer science led to the possibility of combining them with biology to help correct vision and cure blindness.

Bionic vison began with the creation of technology to help cure blindness in patients that lost their vision. Computers and special glasses are used in procedures that help people see again. This process is used by doctors in Portugal who have successfully treated sixteen people [1].

A newer method of helping the blind see is by using the SWAN system which stands for System for Wearable Audio Navigation [11]. This system was originally developed to help the visually impaired, firefighters and soldiers navigate their way in unknown territory, particularly when vision is obstructed or impaired.

Another approach to the problem was developed by Electrical Engineering doctoral student Ninad Thakoor who is working to provide the blind and visually impaired with a wearable, interactive system that will give them better information on their indoor and outdoor surroundings [12].

The EyeTap, a lifelong cyborglog, is a device originally designed to continuously record a persons’ life. A person would wear glasses that would do the recording and could be played back at anytime. Future developments of this device include helping correct vision. This device started as a big clumpy device over the eyes however, in the past 30 years its development has led to smaller more visually attractive device resembling everyday eyeglasses (FIGURE 1b). As a form of electronic visual aid, surveillance system, and wearable camera phone, this device functions as natural extensions of the mind and body.

A research team at University of Washington is working on a pair of contact lenses, the latest step in bionic vision (FIGURE 3). These contact lenses combined with a computer chip have the capability to connect to a wireless device and provide a visual image of the data that would normal display on the device into your field of vision. High –resolution images will be displayed before the user such as video games, texts, and music.

  1. Bionic Vision Technology

The technology ranges from an entire bionic eye to just contact lenses with computer chips. Depending on the need different technologies are created and used in bionic vision. This section will go through not only what these technologies are but also how they work.

    1. Technology to help the blind see

There was a procedure created to give people who lost their sight back by using glasses connected to the human brain and a computer. The device functions as a prosthetic cornea, by directing light to the interior of the eye. An eye piece is placed on a pair of sunglasses and connected to an electrode inside her skull. Then a small camera on the eye piece sends video signals to a computer where it interprets the information from the signal and sends it through two cables plugged into her skull. That information informs the electrodes to now stimulate the brain, which creates a dot matrix image. Until her brain adapts to the technology, she can only see outlines.

The SWAN system utilizes a small laptop, a proprietary tracking chip, GPS, a digital compass, a head tracker, four cameras and light sensor and bone-conduction headphones. Bone phones send auditory signals in the form of vibrations through the skull without plugging the user’s ears. These tools provide audio guidance to a person in their surrounding with or without vision. The laptop is worn as a backpack; the sensors and tracking chip are worn on the head which send data to the SWAN application on the laptop. The computer computes the user’s location and the direction they are going and maps out a travel route, then sends 3-D audio signals to the headphones to guide the user. SWAN uses two different types of auditory displays. It can direct a user toward a sound for example, “walk 100 yards and turn left.” The system can also point out items of interest such as doors, benches and steps.

    1. EyeTap

The EyeTap is an experience capturing system that functions as both a camera and display. The EyeTap started as a wearable telephone/computer satisfying the two most used sense being sound and sight. Then a Cathode Ray Tube attached to a helmet presenting both text and graphics. Once the camcorder was modified and adapted for EyeTap use it works as the figure below (figure 1a). Rays of light which normally enter the eye are now reflected by the diverter. The diverter being a double-sided mirror. The rays of light are collected by a sensor such as a CCD camera. The camera data is processed and the aremac, a device that generates a synthetic ray of light, redisplays the image as rays of light. The rays are again reflected off the diverter and the user perceives the virtual light. The virtual light can be either an image or a computer mediated version of the real world.

Figure 1a

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