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Bionic Eye Prototype Unveiled in Australia

March 30, 2010

Officials in Australia have unveiled a prototype for a bionic eye device – an instrument that looks like a pair of sunglasses, but could one day help the visually impaired regain their sight.

The device features a minute video camera attached to a pair of dark glasses. The camera records images, which will then be sent wirelessly to an implant which will stimulate electrodes on the retina. Once stimulated, the retina will then be able to discern points of light, which the brain will then be able to reconstruct into images, thus effectively creating simulated vision for those suffering from macular degeneration or other genetic ailments.

The bionic eye prototype was created by researchers from the University of Melbourne, and is being tested by individuals from the school, as well as the Bionic Ear Institute, the Center for Eye Research Australia, the University of New South Wales and National Information and Communications Technology Australia. The country’s government contributed $42 million to help fund the project.

“I’ve never heard of anything quite as inspiring as this particular idea. I’ve never heard of it before, I’m quite free to admit,” Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told researchers at the University of Melbourne, according to a March 30 article published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The bionic eye project will keep Australia at the forefront of bionic research and commercialization and has the potential to restore sight to thousands of people in Australia and across the world,” he also said, according to a AFP report published on Tuesday. “If it could work, it would be an outstanding contribution to our common humanity.”

Experts are calling this the biggest advance for low-vision individuals since the invention of the Braille alphabet some two centuries ago. It is currently undergoing tests, and the first actual human implant of the device is tentatively scheduled to occur in 2013.

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