Millions of people tuned into “The Six Million Dollar Man” each week back in the ’70s. The extremely popular show starred Lee Majors as astronaut Steve Austin, whose body was horribly damaged in a plane crash. At a cost of six million dollars, his right arm, both legs, and left eye are replaced with bionic parts, giving him super-human abilities.
Viewers who were paying attention saw the implications of the show as a glance into the future. Today, medical scientists embrace the advancements in implant and replacement technology, and have achieved success at very high levels, including miraculous hearing implants for deaf people.
Capable of being wired directly into a patient’s brain, the “eye” is a digital camera integrated into state-of-the-art eyeglasses that sends signals to the brain, which are then turned into digital images that the brain can accurately process.
What was once considered futuristic by optimists and impossible by those who lacked any real vision, this type of technology is the natural extrapolation of medical and computer technology and human ingenuity. And the team of medical and science researchers in Australia see no reason for the blind to not have legitimate hope for sight.
Highly skilled neurosurgeons will implant 650 miniscule electrodes into the part of the brain that processes sight, known as the visual cortex.
“When those electrodes are stimulated they produce sensations of light in the brain in the visual field of the recipient,” said team lead and general manager of the project Dr. Jeanette Pritchard.
They expect early recipients of this technology to see low-resolution images in black and white, and at first will require adults who have gone blind. This will help researchers perfect the imaging process, ensuring what the camera sees is what the brain sees.
The research group is realistic about the capabilities of their early work, and quick to caution that their efforts will not result in blind people suddenly being able to do things like drive or create intricate artwork. They do, however, expect their new device will help them walk unassisted and perform other simpler tasks.
The immediate implications raise far more hope than doubt, particularly in light of the fact Monash Vision Group expects to begin clinical trials in 2013, and continue to show what can happen when our unquenchable will to do more converges with modern technology in meaningful ways.
For now, however, these fantastic “baby steps” are paving the way for the future of this technology, and give us realistic expectations of a world in which eyesight is restored—or given—through surgical procedures rather than with the aid of advanced prosthesis.
Tyler is a tech enthusiast and writer for CableTV.com.
image via Canberra Times