Donors back scientists’ wireless eye replacement

Written by Richard Chirgwin,

Monash University’s work on a direct wireless sensor-to-brain interface to bypass optic nerve damage has had a boost with donations totalling AU$2 million that will help get the technology ready for human trials. Monash vision

The university has announced that Marc Besen and Monash chancellor Alan Finkel have each chipped in AU$1 million, to which the university will add a million of its own, enough to cover “critical development costs” of the project.

The Monash Vision Group’s (MVG) project is working to couple external vision sensors – a digital camera in glasses – via wireless to a brain implant. The idea is that the implant will stimulate the brain’s receptors directly, rather than via the optic nerve, so the system could help people not only with eye damage, but also with patients suffering nerve degeneration.

As well as the digital camera, the glasses carry out some preliminary image analysis to extract important features from the vision.

At this stage, it’s not vision as the sighted would experience it: the sensors are tiles at the back of the brain. As the University explains: the tiles are connected to electrodes that stimulate the visual cortex to produce the sensation of patterns of light that the patient can learn to interpret as visual images.

One of the questions that can only be answered with human trials is the behaviour of the device in the partially-sighted: how would someone with partial vision perceive the outputs of the implant?