At the beginning of this century, that is 12 years ago , scientists promised that by 2010 we would have the possibility to restore vision to people who lost it because of retinal degeneration. In the last decade several steps in the right direction were made and some demonstrations proved that indeed sight can be restored.
However by the end of the last decade scientists have proved the concept but a real mass market ready to use “prosthetics” was nowhere to be seen (sorry for the unintended pun). So researchers started to say that we should be able to meet the target by the end of this decade. What is really needed, and promised, is a seamless integration of a prosthetic into the eye, with no bulky apparatus to run it.
Now NanoRetina has announced the availability for testing of a compact systems that fulfill the goal, and the intention to make it available on the market, at a 60,000 dollar price tag, starting 2013.
As you can see in the attached video, NanoRetina has produced a tiny chip consisting on one side of 576 photoreceptors that provide signals to a microcomputer. In turns, the microcomputer modulates the stimulation on the optical nerve, in such a way to provide information also on the intensity of the light, something that the brain perceives as hues of grey.
The chip can be placed on the retina with a simple surgery, about 30 minutes from beginning to end, through a small incision in the eye. The chip is powered by a laser beam generated by a special pair of glasses.
A 576 dot matrix is sufficient to provide an intelligible representation of the world. They actually claim that a person with that chip implanted would be able to watch a movie.