What more could a blind person want than to be able to see? An amazing invention is aimed at doing just that. Bar-Ilan
University’s Professor Zeev Zalevsky created a contact lens that, when attached to electrodes, creates sensations in the retina of the eye that can be translated into images. The contact lens receives signals from a regular “off the shelf” camera or smartphone, which the wearer either holds or wears. When a blind person wearing the fitted contact lens looks at an object or points the camera towards it, the camera converts the image into electronic Braille by sending tactile sensations to the retina. The communication system between the camera and the lens operates by Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID.
Kind of Like Braille, But Different
According to Zalevsky, the bionic contact lens is similar to reading Braille, only with eyes instead of fingers. The Braille system
works by positioning six dots in such a way as to convey messages to the reader, who reads using the fingertips. The eye’s cornea, with six hundred times more sensors than the finger, is much more sensitive when it receives tactile stimulation. Moreover, the cornea is the most sensitive area of the body to receiving these types of messages. This innovative solution will give blind people the chance to read letters on paper, recognize shops, and landmarks and identify friends and family. The lens can also help them orient themselves in 3D, which will make it safer to cross a street.
Seeing in the Dark
Although still in the prototype stage, the system has been successfully tried out on animals. One of the results of those studies shows that the animals could actually see their way through an obstacle course in the dark. Nighttime vision is one of the challenges that Zalevsky hopes to overcome next. He speculates that by connecting an infrared camera to a transponder delivering sensations to the contact lens, wearers would be able to see in the dark.
While healthy human eyes visualize at one megapixel, there is great promise that the bionic lenses will reach a resolution of ten thousand pixels. While not perfect vision, it’s getting closer.