The smarts over at Stanford University are working on a device that could help people with degenerative eye conditions restore their vision. All this, by implanting a photovoltaic silicon chip beneath their retinas.
In degenerative eye diseases, the retina's light sensing cells die off, but the rest of the eye is actually still healthy. In comparing and contrasting photovoltaic devices (and the retina), they work by generating an electric current from light energy.
Retinal prosthesis would work by injecting that current into the retina. You'll have to wear specially designed goggles containing miniature cameras connected to a pocket PC. The goggles will take images you're seeing and display them on an LCD embedded in the goggles.
As stated in the Stanford Scope Blog, it’s this use of the near-infrared light that sets Stanford’s product apart from others on the market:
“While similar devices require coils, cables or antennas inside the eye to transmit power and information to the retinal implant, the Stanford device uses near-infrared light to deliver images, making the device thin and easily implantable.”
According to Daniel Palanker, PhD, associated professor of opthalmology and senior author of the paper covering the study of the device, it’s analogous to solar energy:
“It works like the solar panels on your roof, converting light into electric current,” Palanker said. “But instead of the current flowing to your refrigerator, it flows into your retina.”
Still, its a long way before these devices reach consumers, it'll still have to go through some clinical trials. Here's hope that they will take off as soon as possible. And maybe get a little more stylish.