CYCLOPS - Robot Blind Person
CYCLOPS is a novel robot, with a noble purpose. Created by researchers at the California Institute of Technology, it is designed to be used as a surrogate for blind persons in the testing of visual prostheses.
It has been designed as a mobile roving robotic platform, that can duplicate the visual experience that of a blind person who has been implanted with a visual prosthesis, such as an artificial retina sees, as they move about. Because it is an assembled device rather than a grown organic, its eyes can be taken out again and again and again, with a minimum of fuss.
So, rather than subject a human to 'guinea-pig' a new prosthesis, they hope to use CYCLOPS to work the bugs out first.
Wolfgang Fink, a visiting associate in physics at Caltech, and one of the minds behind the robot explained "A sighted person's objectivity is impaired, they may not be able to get to the level of what a blind person truly experiences."
"We can use CYCLOPS in lieu of a blind person. We can equip it with a camera just like what a blind person would have with a retinal prosthesis, and that puts us in the unique position of being able to dictate what the robot receives as visual input."
Now, if scientists desire to see how much better the resolution is when a retinal prosthesis has an array of 60 pixels (as the Argus 2 does) as opposed to 16 pixels (as the Argus does), they can try both out on the robot. If there's no marked navigational improvement, the increase in electrode array size is too small to benefit a person.
They test it by asking the robot to follow a black line down a white-tiled hallway, or seeing if it can find-and enter-a darkened doorway. More complex tests are, beyond the device's capabilities. Not much is expected, with current implants.
CYCLOPS's camera is gimballed, which means it can emulate left-to-right and up-and-down head movements - the natural movements as a person walks, which can be used to increase the realism of the test. An onboard computing platform performs real-time image processing.
"We have the image-processing algorithms running locally on the robot's platform-but we have to get it to the point where it has complete control of its own responses," Fink says.
"Once that's done, we can run many, many tests without bothering the blind prosthesis carriers."
The results of tests on the CYCLOPS robot should also help researchers determine whether a particular version of a prosthesis, say, or its onboard image-processing software, are even worth testing in blind persons. "We'll be coming in with a much more educated initial starting point, after which we'll be able to see how blind people work with these implants," Fink notes.
And the implants need to work well. After all, Fink points out, "Blind people using a cane or a canine unit can move around impressively well. For an implant to be useful, it has to have the implicit promise that it will surpass these tools. The ultimate promise-the hope-is that we instill in them such useful vision that they can attain independent mobility, can recognize people, and can go about their daily lives."