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MIT Microchip Could Someday Restore Vision

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the i-can-see-clearly-now dept.

Biotech 43

CWmike writes "Researchers at MIT have developed a microchip that could, one day, enable blind people to regain some level of vision. By combining wireless technology, eyeglasses equipped with a camera, and the chip, they should be able to restore at least some vision to people who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration, two of the leading causes of blindness, the scientists say. The chip, which is designed to be attached to the eyeball, would pick up images sent from the camera and electrically stimulate the nerve cells that normally carry visual input from the retina to the brain. The chip is sealed in a titanium case to keep water from leaking in and damaging its circuitry. At this point, the technology is not expected to restore normal vision, but MIT said it should provide the ability to navigate around a room or walk down a sidewalk. 'Anything that could help them see a little better and let them identify objects and move around a room would be an enormous help,' said Shawn Kelly, a researcher in MIT's Research Laboratory for Electronics. 'If they can recognize faces of people in a room, that brings them into the social environment as opposed to sitting there waiting for someone to talk to them.'"

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43 comments

Neat, but... (4, Interesting)

Raindance (680694) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546017)

Here are some questions I have about the chip:

- These chips/systems already exist. What's new about this MIT effort? The Computerworld article was very sparse.

- There's a great deal of bidirectional communication that goes on in normal eyes-- information not only flowing from eye to brain, but from brain to eye as well. As far as I know these tech just discards these signals. Is this important?

- Last I heard, this sort of technology was approaching 1000 effective pixels of visual information (assuming ideal electrode placement). Has this effort from MIT pushed this boundary? How does '1000 effective pixels' compare to the eye's effective resolution? Can we put normal vision in terms of pixel resolution?

- I've read about shunting tactile senses (for instance, the nerves on a person's tongue) over to a digital videocamera. I believe the military has done a fair bit of research into this. Could this sort of approach be viable for helping the blind function as well? Could it become the preferred approach since it seems less invasive than ocular- and neuro-surgery?

Re:Neat, but... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29546041)

- Does it run Linux?

Re:Neat, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29546305)

Yeah, but the Linux version has an inconvenient bug. [youtube.com]

Re:Neat, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29547637)

You call that inconvenient?
It just so happens that when i turned blind i also decided that it should be my mission to become Supreme Overlord of Earth.

Re:Neat, but... (2, Informative)

DrMrLordX (559371) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546047)

I am not an expert in the field or otherwise well-informed about the subject matter at hand, but it seems to me the major differences here are that it's wireless and that it communicates with a glasses-mounted camera that would hopefully be less obvious to a casual observer than the Borg-like implants that have been used to provide limited sight to the blind in the past. The article is somewhat lacking in the details department.

Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong; I've merely arrived at these conclusions via assumptions based on the post and the article.

Re:Neat, but... (1)

Pseudonym (62607) | more than 4 years ago | (#29552879)

I am not an expert in the field or otherwise well-informed about the subject matter at hand, but it seems to me the major differences here are that it's wireless and that it communicates with a glasses-mounted camera that would hopefully be less obvious to a casual observer than the Borg-like implants that have been used to provide limited sight to the blind in the past.

So how is this different from the same thing that everyone is working on? Including, I might add, a consortium which includes the group who invented the cochlear implant [bionicvision.org.au] .

Re:Neat, but... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29546247)

- Last I heard, this sort of technology was approaching 1000 effective pixels of visual information (assuming ideal electrode placement). Has this effort from MIT pushed this boundary? How does '1000 effective pixels' compare to the eye's effective resolution? Can we put normal vision in terms of pixel resolution?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_eye#Dynamic_range

Re:Neat, but... (2, Interesting)

Shawjord (1644077) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546365)

I'm also not an expert in the field but I have heard of a procedure in which a tooth is removed and implanted into the eye, It was completed in Great Britain and the patient got to see his wife for the very first time. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1197256/Blind-man-sees-wife-time-having-TOOTH-implanted-eye.html [dailymail.co.uk]

But it's *old* news (2, Insightful)

hawk (1151) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546793)

Similar things have been reported for *at least* 30 years.

In the 1970's, I recall a sensor that clipped to eye glasses and connected to electrodes on the back of the user. I want to say that it was 16x16 or 32x32, but it provided enough "vision" to navigate and see objects.

A few months ago, iirc, was a report which used nerves on the tongue.

These reports are evolutionary, not revolutionary. A good thing, but it's not as if this is a breakthrough changing the world from "nothing to let the see" to "now they can see."

More efficient, easier to handle, lower cost--sure, but that's just the regular advancement of technology.

hawk

Re:Neat, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29546839)

The eye itself has an effective resolution of photosensitive cells on the back of the retina. The number of pixels only becomes meaningless when dealing with intracortical implants as the the brain interprets the pixels in layers. The eye itself, however, does have a pixel-like resolution. This technology only works if the nerve cells in the back of the retina are still intact. If they are damaged, you have to either interface with the ganglion or the brain directly.

Re:Neat, but... (1)

codeAlDente (1643257) | more than 4 years ago | (#29547563)

"There's a great deal of bidirectional communication that goes on in normal eyes-- information not only flowing from eye to brain, but from brain to eye as well. As far as I know these tech just discards these signals. Is this important?" Actually, communication mediated by the optic nerve is pretty much uni-directional. There is some evidence for a small amount of bi-directional communication in the chicken, but the far greater loss of information comes from the limited number of electrodes in the chip. The eye has on the order of a million ganglion cells whose axons constitute the optic nerve. Further, zapping the retina with extracellular electrodes doesn't replicate the normal visual function of any of these neurons, and people are only beginning to understand the retinal circuitry well enough to understand what happens when current is applied in the extra-cellular space. The answer probably won't be "normal visual signaling".

5 megapixels? (1)

nbauman (624611) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548073)

Last I heard, this sort of technology was approaching 1000 effective pixels of visual information (assuming ideal electrode placement). Has this effort from MIT pushed this boundary? How does '1000 effective pixels' compare to the eye's effective resolution? Can we put normal vision in terms of pixel resolution?

To get an idea of the eye's effective resolution, think of a very high resolution monitor -- resolution so high that you couldn't tell the difference between it and a higher-resolution monitor sitting next to it. That's how much resolution the eye has.

Reviewers used to say that you didn't need a digital camera with a resolution greater than 5 megapixels, unless you were going to enlarge it. So 5 MP, which is about a 2,000x2,000 pixel line, sounds like a good guess. That's about 0.1 degree per pixel, which sounds about right.

That's not exactly right, because the eye doesn't take in a whole scene at once. It aims at different parts of the scene, with (in humans) the macula, which has higher resolution than the rest of the retina. So it's more efficient than a camera.

Besides resolution, contrast is also important. And the retina can recognize movement directly.

There's also a lot of image processing that goes on from the retina, to the optical nerve, through the processing centers in the brain. The retina figures out edges, points, movement, and color, and passes it on, then the brain figures out 3D stereoscopic information, objects, figures out what the objects are, recognizes them, and passes them on to other parts of the brain for higher processing. I think there are some error-correction circuits. There's a lot of great research on this.

This is oversimplified. There are people who enjoy correcting oversimplified explanations, and some of them know more about this than I do. I will leave it to them to enjoy themselves.

For the purpose of restoring vision. (2, Insightful)

nanospook (521118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546025)

This is a total waste of time. Nature already has the best eye.. all we have to do is grow it.. But for the sake of technology, this stuff is great and can result in advances in other fields and products.. maybe someday allowing us to replace our eyes with totally hackable bionic eyes hooked into the internet and capable of playing all the porn we want anytime we want it.. shit, I missed my bus again..

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (1)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546035)

Research into electronic solutions specifically also benefits other areas that may be useful, like mind-machine interfaces.

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (4, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546095)

That sounds lovely. What are we supposed to do until then, though? Just sit around on our laurels and wait for it to happen? What of all the sight we could marginally-restore until it's all ready and perfect?

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (1)

nanospook (521118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546125)

Focus on the biological idea and let it grow itself.. do we not see multiple stem cell ideas and advances weekly as compared to a technological area? While America has been sitting on stem cell research, other countries have moved ahead.. (or so I've read :), especially China.. I'll take a pair of blue eyes please :)

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (2, Insightful)

DMUTPeregrine (612791) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546143)

Yes, and chip designers all have second degrees in biology and are qualified to do cutting-edge stem cell research.

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (2, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546155)

As far as Slashdot is concerned, I blame people playing Civilization and its ilk, and thinking that you can (and possibly should) research just one area of technology at a time.

Gaming and tech development. (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546235)

I have to agree, even games that allow you to research multiple things at one time don't really give you any benefit to doing so. Space Empires, I'm looking at you.

Doing Tech 1 then 2 then 3 will get you the three techs just as fast as doing 1+2+3, with the added benefit that you'll get 1 and 2 a couple turns faster.

Personally, I'd do something like give a 1-10% advantage per additional tech you're researching to show the benefits of synergy and that a scientist suited for researching lasers is probably not going to do as good in biology.

Hmm... In a 'Research Point' setting, how about the points that go to a research field = RP/(number of research activities + 1).

1000 RP, 1 research topic (crash development) = 500 RP to that topic
1000 RP, 2 research topics (priority) = 333 RP to each topic, totaling 666
1000 RP, 9 topics = 100 RP each, each will take 5 times as long, but you'll get 9 techs in the time it'd take to get 5 serially.

Anyways, back more on the thread topic, growing new eyes would be great, but you still have the problem of restoring the nerve pathways and retraining the brain. It's entirely possible that you'd want a chip between the new eye and the brain to play translator, to make the transition earlier. Reducing therapy/usefulness from 5 years to 6 months (for example) might make it worth it.

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29546149)

Bad news for you: those organ transplants you buy in China ARE NOT grown in a vat... all death row inmates are involuntary organ donors... and you'd be amazed what can put you on death row there.

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (1)

BigRedFed (635728) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546287)

How about invest int a company like ACTC [advancedcell.com] that is about to file for clinical trials with the FDA on using Stem Cells for the same purpose?

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (2, Insightful)

moon3 (1530265) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546347)

We all have grown our eyes once, stem cells from our bodies can arrange and grow another eye again. We have already grown beating rat hearts in the lab, so to grow human organs and tissue is the next step. What they need to do is to assemble basic protein scaffolding and then arrange and activate the stem cells to move to right places and build the organ. This happens in bio-reactors, hell it is not that other worldly tech, some labs do similar things already, but mostly in obscurity. What amazes me that this inferior electronic implants got a green light and much superior regenerative medicine is not even on the support list.

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29546363)

Just like many other issues facing our society now, we need to approach this issue from multiple angles. We need people to work on electrical prosthetics because that is more likely to work in the lifetime of those suffering without sight. Growing a new eye is obviously the best option, but I don't think it's feasible right now. That doesn't mean we shouldn't also work on stem cells and regeneration. It's just like our energy crisis. We can't depend only on clean coal, solar wind or nuclear. We need it all.

Also, you say that nature already has the best eye, but it's definitely not the human eye. Arguably it's not even the mammal eye. Other animals can see in near infrared, ultraviolet, or even determine the polarization of the light. Mammals have parts of their eyes backwards of the optimal configuration. Light has to pass through blood vessels and nerves before hitting the rods and cones. Because the nerves are facing front instead of behind the retina, we get detached retinas and a huge blind spot.

I can see electronic replacements getting better, faster and cheaper than biological replacement ever could.

but in the mean time, we need to try everything!

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (1)

tsm_sf (545316) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546721)

This is a total waste of time.

This is why slashdot sucks ass.

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29546879)

Best eye? Our optic nerve creates a blind spot where it passes through the retina. And our lenses aren't very good. The whole thing is prone to disease and goes bad as we get older. The muscles can also weaken. And everyone with glasses? Their eyes are all shaped wrong. We have terrible night vision, and we can't focus on far away objects like an eagle. Our eyes are good for about 30 years, and during those years are best at spotting nearby large mammals for prey and finding berries on shrubs. I think science can do a bit better than that.

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 4 years ago | (#29547053)

You are thinking too small...think DARPA...imagine giving your special ops multi-spectral vision. Infrared, ultraviolet, built in zoom, military would pay some damned big checks for that tech. I have a feeling just like most of our other advancements it will come from something the military industrial complex cooks up for the battlefield and then passes down to the civilians.

Imagine having an infrared laser sight that your soldiers can see clear as day with their "bare" eyes while the enemy doesn't see jack. Being able to see in pitch black or see the enemies body heat while having full freedom of movement and none of the tunnel vision that the head mounted optics cause. Those would be some seriously deadly soldiers on any battlefield and I'm sure the military would pay quite a pretty penny for the upgrade. And if they are cooking up vision tech in the civilian sector I'm sure in some hidden lab the military is cooking up vision tech a hell of a lot badder than this.

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (1)

SlashWombat (1227578) | more than 4 years ago | (#29547269)

I agree. Recent developments seem to indicate stem cell therapies effectively repair many of the defects that make people blind. This technology will probably never see the light of day as medicine improves in leaps and bounds, making technological solutions crude and ineffective by comparison to "the real thing".

Re:For the purpose of restoring vision. (1)

triffid_98 (899609) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549261)

Don't know, I don't know such stuff. I just do eyes, ju-, ju-, just eyes... just genetic design, just eyes. You Nexus, huh? I design your eyes.

*BSD is Dying (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29546075)

It is now official. Netcraft confirms: *BSD is dying

One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered *BSD community when IDC confirmed that *BSD market share has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all servers. Coming on the heels of a recent Netcraft survey which plainly states that *BSD has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. *BSD is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last [samag.com] in the recent Sys Admin comprehensive networking test.

You don't need to be the Amazing Kreskin [amazingkreskin.com] to predict *BSD's future. The hand writing is on the wall: *BSD faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for *BSD because *BSD is dying. Things are looking very bad for *BSD. As many of us are already aware, *BSD continues to lose market share. Red ink flows like a river of blood.

FreeBSD is the most endangered of them all, having lost 93% of its core developers. The sudden and unpleasant departures of long time FreeBSD developers Jordan Hubbard and Mike Smith only serve to underscore the point more clearly. There can no longer be any doubt: FreeBSD is dying.

Let's keep to the facts and look at the numbers.

OpenBSD leader Theo states that there are 7000 users of OpenBSD. How many users of NetBSD are there? Let's see. The number of OpenBSD versus NetBSD posts on Usenet is roughly in ratio of 5 to 1. Therefore there are about 7000/5 = 1400 NetBSD users. BSD/OS posts on Usenet are about half of the volume of NetBSD posts. Therefore there are about 700 users of BSD/OS. A recent article put FreeBSD at about 80 percent of the *BSD market. Therefore there are (7000+1400+700)*4 = 36400 FreeBSD users. This is consistent with the number of FreeBSD Usenet posts.

Due to the troubles of Walnut Creek, abysmal sales and so on, FreeBSD went out of business and was taken over by BSDI who sell another troubled OS. Now BSDI is also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.

All major surveys show that *BSD has steadily declined in market share. *BSD is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If *BSD is to survive at all it will be among OS dilettante dabblers. *BSD continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, *BSD is dead.

Fact: *BSD is dying

"*BSD is Dying" Trolls are Dying (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29546685)

<begin parody>

It is now official. Slashdot confirms: "*BSD is Dying" trolls are dying

One more crippling post filter hit the already beleagured troll community when Slashdot confirmed that "*BSD is Dying" portion of troll posts has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all offtopic posts. Coming on the heels of a recent Slashdot poll which plainly states that "*BSD is Dying" trolls have lost everyone's interest years ago, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. Slashdot has accumulated a complete troll disarray, as fitting exemplified by fighting dead, pointless flames always [slashdot.org] in the recent Troll Script comprehensive comment maker.

You don't need to be the Amazing William [mayoclinic.com] to predict these trolls' futures. The hand writing is on the wall: all trolls face a bleak, non-social future. In fact there won't be any future at all for trolls because they will likely fail to reproduce. Things are looking very bad for trolls. As many of us are already aware, trolls continue to lose posts to Slashdot's filters. Pointless trolling scripts flow like a sewage.

The antisocialite is the most endangered of them all, having lost 93% of its core social skills. The sudden and unpleasant departures and long times of bottling up frustration only serve to underscore the point more clearly. There can no longeer be any doubt: "*BSD is Dying" trolls are dying.

Let's make up statistics like politicians do.

GNAA trolls state that there are 7000 IPs for posting. How many of those IPs aren't blocked yet? Let's see. The number of GNAA versus random-one-liner ("faggot", typically) useless posts on slashdot is roughly in ratio of 5 to 1. Therefore there are about 7000/5 = 1400 IPs for random-one-liner trolls. Shill-accusation posts are about half the volume of random-one-liners. Therefore there are about 700 IPs posting shill-accusations. A recent article article put Natalie-Portman-posts at about 80 percent of the nonsense. Therefore there are (7000+1400+700)*4 = 36400 Natalie-Portman-comments. This is consistent with the number of trolls hanging around.

Due to the troubles of story archiving, abysmal moderation and so on, the Natalie-Portman trolls went out of their way to be taken over by trolls who were confused about troubled story ID numbers. Now the comment system is also dead, its corpse turned over to Slashdot 2.0.

All major surveys show that "*BSD is Dying" trolls have steadily declined in Slashdot posts. Those trolls are very sociopathic and their long term survival propects are very dim. If "*BSD is Dying" is to survive at all it will be among the Internet Wayback Machine and the Library of Congress. "*BSD is Dying" trolls continue to decay. Nothing short of a social miracle could save them at at this point in time. For all practical purposes, "BSD is Dying" troll posts are.... not amusing.

<end parody> I'm going to Hell for this... salutations to CmdrTaco, you do an awesome job. Yep, I fed a troll, maybe he was actually hungry in a useful way...

Eye will pass, thanks. (1)

assemblerex (1275164) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546223)

If this is as "great" as modern hearing aids, I will pass.
I have no desire to live with "coleco vision" for the remainder of my life.

Re:Eye will pass, thanks. (1)

AnotherUsername (966110) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549233)

If this is as "great" as modern hearing aids, I will pass. I have no desire to live with "coleco vision" for the remainder of my life.

As opposed to "no vision" for the remainder of your life?

Geordi's Visor, 370 years sooner (1)

Falc0n (618777) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546269)

I hope the fix isn't anything like Geordi's Visor! [bbc.co.uk] But who knows, now the blind can pick up electromagnetic fields to prove all those new-age people were right about magnets after all! ;-)

It's good enough ... (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#29546271)

... to keep a Cadillac driver on the road for a few more decades. Also, if they can put their glasses up on the dashboard, not being able to see over the steering wheel will no longer be an issue.

People w/macular degeneration can already navigate (1)

nbauman (624611) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548135)

People with macular degeneration can already walk down a sidewalk or navigate around a room. They still have peripheral vision.

The macula is the spot at the center of the retina which has the highest concentration of receptors and the highest resolution.

It's damn useful, and it's hard (though not impossible) to read and identify faces without it. But macular degeneration spares the peripheral vision, so people can still get around. It's not "cane-tapping" blind. There are also some methods of using the peripheral vision to replace the macula with optical manipulation with fancy glasses, or digital manipulation.

Not that I would complain about the accuracy of a Slashdot story, but it's a teachable moment.

The real innovation of that MIT group is to place a titanium implant in the eye which can last a year in a pig. It's great work on the long, hard road to replacing the retina. I don't expect to see it in my lifetime, but hats off to anyone who can prove me wrong.

Retinitis Pigmentosa is different (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29565619)

Retinitis Pigmentosa is often grouped in the same family with Macular Degeneration, but it is different. With RP, the peripheral vision is most affected, along with night vision. It can be "cane-tapping" blind, but it depends on the individual and environment. Navigation in unfamiliar places is very difficult.

As an individual with RP, I love hearing about new technologies and research that may one day help others with RP. I have no delusions that anything will help me in my lifetime, but I have hope for future generations.

Re: TFA, Is this a Mohawk or American fast food (1)

bitemykarma (1515895) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548293)

I'm sick and fucking tired of web sites that are a slim stip of content down the middle, with horseshit on the side.

Someday we'll travel backwards in time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29548727)

Someday? Yeah, great.

Similar UCSC research commercially available 2009 (1)

jrobot (1239050) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548847)

"Second Sight expects the Argus II to be its first commercially available device, hitting the United States market in 2010. Mech said the company hasn't set a price, but suggested the Argus II would cost more than a cochlear implant. That could put the price between $60,000 and $100,000. Meanwhile, he hopes to start clinical trials in 2011 for a third generation of the device with more than 200 electrodes." [Science Notes 2009] http://scicom.ucsc.edu/SciNotes/0901/pages/vision/vision.html [ucsc.edu] [Integrated Bioelectronics Research] http://ibr.soe.ucsc.edu/index.php?file=kop10.php [ucsc.edu]
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