The laser-powered bionic eye that gives 576-pixel grayscale vision to the blind

After a lot of theorising, postulating, and non-human trials, it looks like bionic eye implants are finally hitting the market — first in Europe, and hopefully soon in the US. These implants can restore sight to completely blind patients — though only if the blindness is caused by a faulty retina, as in macular degeneration (which millions of old people suffer from), diabetic retinopathy, or other degenerative eye diseases.

The first of these implants, Argus II developed by Second Sight, is already available in Europe. For around $115,000, you get a 4-hour operation to install an antenna behind your eye, and a special pair of camera-equipped glasses that send signals to the antenna. The antenna is wired into your retina with around 60 electrodes, creating the equivalent of a 60-pixel display for your brain to interpret. The first users of the Argus II bionic eye report that they can see rough shapes and track the movement of objects, and slowly read large writing.

The second bionic eye implant, the Bio-Retina developed by Nano Retina, is a whole lot more exciting. The Bio-Retina costs less — around the $60,000 mark — and instead of an external camera, the vision-restoring sensor is actually placed inside the eye, on top of the retina. The operation only takes 30 minutes and can be performed under local anaesthetic — via redwolf.newsvine.com

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