The idea of artificial optics is not entirely a new concept but its practical application has only recently become a reality. The Food and Drug Administration finally has approved the use of the Alpha IMS: an artificial optic implant. This device has made powerful progress in efforts to restore vision to the blind.
Developed by a team in the University Eye Hospital in Tübingen, Germany, the Alpha IMS is not the first-ever optical device developed to grant vision to blind patients. However, it is the first self-contained bionic implant. Unlike previous attempts that utilized an external camera mounted to a patient’s head, the Alpha IMS is actually implanted behind the retinal wall of the eye. There it uses micro-photodiode arrays to translate light signals that then bypass any typical channels of transmittal. It then sends those electrical impulses straight into the occipital lobe.
Already nine trial patients have received this implant and are reporting amazing results. Patients who have received this implant can revel in such seemingly mundane sights like storefronts. One patient recounts seeing his wife’s face for the first time.
Besides being self-contained, the implant is remarkable in for how far it has advanced the field of optic implants. This is the first optic implant that is customizable. There is actually a dial on the side of each patient’s head that allows the brightness of the implant to be adjusted for comfort. While the recently-approved Argus II has 60 electrodes, Alpha IMS has 1,500.
The age of cybernetic bionics apparently is already upon us. Beyond granting eyesight to the blind, there are efforts to restore hearing, the ability to move limbs, and much more. As scientists continue to find ways to advance this technology, physical disabilities seem ever more likely to become a thing of the past.