An international team led by scientists from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has recently developed the world's first spherical artificial eye with 3D retina. This device has better capabilities than the existing bionic eyes and in some cases, even exceed those of human eyes. The artificial eye will provide vision to humanoid robots and a new hope of recovery for blind and severely visually impaired patients.
The scientific community has spent decades trying to replicate the structure and activity of a biological eye, but the vision provided by existing prosthetic eyes (largely in the form of glasses connected to external cables) remains low-resolution, with sensors 2D flat image. The artificial eye developed at HKUST, however, is of the electrochemical type and not only replicates the structure of a natural eye for the first time with this degree of fidelity, but can actually offer sharper vision than that of the human eye in the future, with additional functions such as the ability to detect infrared radiation in the dark.
The key feature that enables such advancements in the new artificial eye is a 3D artificial retina. The retina is made from a suite of nanowire-based light sensors that mimic photoreceptors from human retinas and has been developed by the team at Zhiyong Fan and Leilei Gu of HKUST's Department of Electronic and Computational Engineering.
In the future, those nanowire-based light sensors could connect directly to the eye nerves of patients with vision problems.
Exploded view of the main parts of the new artificial eye. (Image: HKUST)
Furthermore, since nanowires have a higher data density than photoreceptors in the human retina, if a good connection of such nanowires with the appropriate biological tissues is achieved in the future, the artificial retina can consequently receive more light signals and potentially achieve a higher image resolution than that available with the human’s retina. Employing different materials to increase the sensitivity and spectral range of the sensors, the new artificial eye can also achieve other functions not available in the natural human eye, such as night vision.
The working principle of the artificial eye includes an electrochemical process that is adapted from a type of solar cell.
The next step in this line of research and development will be to further improve the performance, stability and biocompatibility of the new artificial eye. For the application of the prostheses, the researchers hope to count on the collaboration of medical research experts who have relevant experience in optometry and ocular prostheses.
Source: Redacción, N., 2020. Primer Ojo Artificial Esférico Con Retina 3D. [online] Noticias de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (Amazings® / NCYT®). Available at: <https://noticiasdelaciencia.com/art/38499/primer-ojo-artificial-esferico-con-retina-3d> [Accessed 18 June 2020].
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