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VR Interfaces: Boston Retinal Implant Project
of Boston Retinal Implant Project
|The 'virtual light' class of retinal displays, are perhaps unique in the display
industry, because they don't actually display anything. The entire concept is
built round bypassing the eye entirely, and dropping visual encoded information
directly into the optic nerve. This of course has two fold benefits.
Firstly, it bypasses any damage or degeneration in the eye completely, eliminating
partial or total loss of visual acuity from the equation - essentially, it allows
sight even without eyes.
Secondly, for applications such as VR, it removes the possibility of eye-strain
by repeatedly focusing at different wavelengths of light to compensate for
perceived distance on a 2D screen. It does this by bypassing the use of the
eyes entirely. They can still focus or unfocus, but because the correct information
reaches the brain regardless, there is no straining to reach the appropriate
focus level, as occurs constantly with all monitor systems.
The Boston retinal implant, is a type of interface along these
same lines, that was actually inspired by the cochlear implant for the ear.
In other words, the attempt to restore full function to an organ that is damaged
beyond its own ability to heal.
Created by MIT, this eye implant is designed for people who have lost their
vision from retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration, two of
the leading causes of blindness. The retinal prosthesis would take over the
function of lost retinal cells by electrically stimulating the nerve cells that
normally carry visual input from the retina to the brain.
"Anything that could help them see a little better and let them identify
objects and move around a room would be an enormous help," says Shawn Kelly,
a researcher in MIT's Research Laboratory for Electronics and member of the
Boston Retinal Implant Project.
Led by John Wyatt, MIT professor of electrical engineering, the team recently
reported a new prototype that they hope to start testing in blind patients within
the next three years.
As with all devices of this type at the moment, it works on something of an
augmented reality meme. An AR interface with cameras embedded in what would
look to be a normal pair of spectacles, would transmit images to the microchips
embedded in the ocular cavity, attached to the outside of the eye. The spectacles
also house a coil capable of keeping the microchip powered. A literal case of
no sight without the spectacles, bringing the old cartoon jokes full circle.
One of the biggest challenges the researchers face is designing a surgical procedure
and implant that won't damage the eye. In their initial prototypes, the electrodes
were attached directly atop the retina from inside the eye, which carries more
risk of damaging the delicate retina. In the latest version, described in the
October issue of IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, the implant is
attached to the outside of the eye, and the electrodes are implanted behind
That sub retinal location, which reduces the risk of tearing the retina and requires
a less invasive surgical procedure, is one of the key differences between the
MIT implant and retinal prostheses being developed by other research groups.
The implant is not yet at the stage of human trials. Implantation in pigs is