Bionic eye could help the blind read

Improvements to the Argus II eye implant could help blind people "see" Braille.

Blind people may soon be able to read Braille without the usual brush of the fingertips. By wearing a retinal implant called the Argus II, the visually impaired may soon be able to read signs on the street simply by glancing at them.

The Argus II implant , which debuted in 2011, is designed for those suffering from ailments such as retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that kills photoreceptor cells in the retina but leaves neurons carrying visual signals intact.

The device captures images through a camera that is worn on an individual’s face. The images are then converted to electrical signals and transmitted to an electrode array that has been implanted on the patient’s eye. The electrical signals subsequently stimulate nerves in the retina.

And while the implant does allow the wearer to see the world around them, the images are still fuzzy due to low resolutions, making reading text extremely difficult.

Second Sight, the company behind the Argus II, believes it has solved the reading problem.

New Scientist reports:

Second Sight’s solution is to stimulate electrodes in the pattern of Braille letters instead of standard text. This technique would replace the video processing section of the Argus II with a kind of Braille visualizer, to convert alphabets into their corresponding Braille arrangement of dots. If a wearer is facing a signboard with text on it, it’s the Braille lettering they would see.

The implant isn’t meant to replace standard Braille texts since “reading” Braille by touch is still quicker than recognizing it with the Argus II. The implant will likely be most useful when it comes to reading public texts like street signs.

[via New Scientist, MIT Technology Review]

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