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Bionic eye on the move

Surgeon Dr Penny Allen and bionic eye patient Dr Dianne Ashworth

Surgeon Dr Penny Allen and bionic eye patient Dr Dianne Ashworth

After 18 months of laboratory-based testing, bionic eye implants are now being tested in environments that mimic real-world conditions.

Researchers are testing how the bionic eye prototype device improves orientation and mobility for the three patients who received bionic eye prototype implants in 2012. The trials mimic real world situations, but in a controlled way, to allow for rigorous scientific testing.

Associate Professor Nick Barnes, Principal Researcher, trialled the use of a new depth camera in NICTA’s Canberra Research Laboratories this week. Patients were required  to navigate obstacles using visual information from the camera connected to the bionic eye prototype device.

Dr Dianne Ashworth was the first patient to receive the prototype device and took part in the testing in Canberra. Her bionic eye allows her to see “blob-like” shapes as she navigates across the testing room towards a target. Another patient, Mr Murray Rowland, describes the electrical signals he receives from his bionic eye as appearing like “lightning strikes in a thunderstorm”, highlighting the fact that each user responds slightly differently to the electrical impulses.

The third patient, Mr Maurice Skehan said, “It was really great to see how the technology was going to work without using a guide dog or relying on another person to guide you. There is still a lot of work to be done in the future, to optimise the connections between the device, the eye and the brain, however it’s great to see how the semi-portable device can be used to pick up objects and obstacles.”

These trials will help the researchers fine-tune the device and ensure that the users are receiving useful visual information that will help improve their independence and ability to move around.

CERA leads surgical and clinical research components of the Bionic Vision Australia consortium. Bionic Eye Clinical Research Coordinator, Dr Lauren Ayton said, “The results so far have exceeded our expectations. It’s a very promising start.”