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Blindness is more feared by the public than any other ailment. Artificial vision for the blind was once the stuff of science fiction. But now, a limited form of artificial vision is a reality .Now we are at the beginning of the end of blindness with this type of technology. In an effort to illuminate the perpetually dark world of the blind, researchers are turning to technology. They are investigating several electronic-based strategies designed to bypass various defects or missing links along the brain's image processing pathway and provide some form of artificial sight.
This paper is about curing blindness. Linking electronics and biotechnology, the scientists has made the commitment to the development of technology that will provide or restore vision for the visually impaired around the world. This paper describes the development of artificial vision system, which cures blindness to some extent. This paper explains the process involved in it and explains the concepts of artificial silicon retina, cortical implants etc. The roadblocks that are created are also elucidated clearly. Finally the advancements made in this system and scope of this in the future is also presented clearly.
Artificial-vision researchers take inspiration from another device, the cochlear implant, which has successfully restored hearing to thousands of deaf people. But the human vision system is far more complicated than that of hearing. The eye is one of the most amazing organs in the body. Before we understand how artificial vision is created, it's important to know about the important role that the retina plays in how we see. Here is a simple explanation of what happens when we look at an object:
• Scattered light from the object enters through the cornea.
• The light is projected onto the retina.
• The retina sends messages to the brain through the optic nerve.
• The brain interprets what the object is.
The retina is complex in itself. This thin membrane at the back of the eye is a vital part of our ability to see. Its main function is to receive and transmit images to the brain. These are the three main types of cells in the eye that help perform this function: Rods, Cones and Ganglion Cells. The information received by the rods and cones are transmitted to the nearly 1 million ganglion cells in the retina. These ganglion cells interpret the messages from the rods and cones and send the information on to the brain by way of the optic nerve. There are a number of retinal diseases that attack these cells, which can lead to blindness. The most notable of these diseases are retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration. Both of these diseases attack the retina, rendering the rods and cones inoperative, causing either loss of peripheral vision or total blindness. However, it's been found that neither of these retinal diseases affects the ganglion cells or the optic nerve. This means that if scientists can develop artificial cones and rods, information could still be sent to the brain for interpretation. This concept laid the foundation for the invention of the ARTIFICIAL VISION SYSTEM technology.
HOW TO CREATE ARTIFICIAL VISION?
The current path that scientists are taking to create artificial vision received a jolt in 1988, when Dr. Mark Humayun demonstrated that a blind person could be made to see light by stimulating the nerve ganglia behind the retina with an electrical current. This test proved that the nerves behind the retina still functioned even when the retina had degenerated. Based on this information, scientists set out to create a device that could translate images and electrical pulses that could restore vision. Today, such a device is very close to be available to the millions of people who have lost their vision to retinal disease. In fact, there are at least two silicon microchip devices that are being developed. The concept for both devices is similar, with each being:
• Small enough to be implanted in the eye
• Supplied with a continuous source of power
• Biocompatible with the surrounding eye tissue
Perhaps the most promising of these two silicon devices is the ARTIFICIAL SILICON RETINA (ASR). The ASR is an extremely tiny device. It has a diameter of just 2 mm (.078 inch) and is thinner than a human hair. In order for an artificial retina to work it has to be small enough so that doctors can transplant it in the eye without damaging the other structures within the eye. Groups of researchers have found that blind people can see spots of light when electrical currents stimulate cells, following the experimental insertion of an electrode device near or into their retina. Some patients even saw crude shapes in the form of these light spots. This indicates that despite damage to cells in the retina, electronic techniques can transmit signals to the next step in the pathway and provide some form of visual sensation. Researchers are currently developing more sophisticated computer chips with the hope that they will be able to transmit more meaningful images to the brain.
How does ARTIFICIAL SILICON RETINA works?
The ASR contains about 3,500 microscopic solar cells that are able to convert light into electrical pulses, mimicking the function of cones and rods. To implant this device into the eye, surgeons make three tiny incisions no larger than the diameter of a needle in the white part of the eye. Through these incisions, the surgeons introduce a miniature cutting and vacuuming device that removes the gel in the middle of the eye and replaces it with saline. Next, a pinpoint opening is made in the retina through which they inject fluid to lift up a portion of the retina from the back of the eye, which creates a small pocket in the sub retinal space for the device to fit in. The retina is then resealed over the ASR.
For any microchip to work it needs power, and the amazing thing about the ASR is that it receives all of its needed power from the light entering the eye. This means that with the ASR implant in place behind the retina, it receives all of the light entering the eye. This solar energy eliminates the need for any wires, batteries or other secondary devices to supply power.
Another microchip device that would restore partial vision is currently in development called the artificial retina component chip (ARCC), this device is quite similar to the ASR. Both are made of silicon and both are powered by solar energy. The ARCC is also a very small device measuring 2 mm square and a thickness of .02 millimeters (.00078 inch). There are significant differences between the devices, however. According to researchers, the ARCC will give blind patients the ability to see 10 by 10 pixel images, which is about the size of a single letter on this page. However, researchers have said that they could eventually develop a version of the chip that would allow 250 by 250 pixel array, which would allow those who were once blind to read a newspaper.