Australian scientists implant first bionic eye prototype

Australian scientists have been working for years to develop a robotic eye, and the government-funded Bionic Vision Australia has reached a major milestone, implanting a prototype device in a woman's eye and getting promising results.

The scientists call it a "pre-bionic eye," and it's a 24-electrode implant inserted behind the retina and used to stimulate nerves in the eyes. The patient, Dianne Ashworth, has profound vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, and said the implant allowed her to see shapes for the first time.

"I didn't know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash. It was amazing," Ashworth said in a statement. "Every time there was stimulation, there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye."

In the next stage, the scientists will wire the implant to a vision processor at Bionic Vision Australia's lab, allowing them to see what Ashworth sees and determine what stimuli generates what response, said Rob Shepherd, director of the Australia's Bionics Institute. "The team is looking for consistency of shapes, brightness, size and location of flashes to determine how the brain interprets this information," Shepherd said in a statement.

The team plans to expand the technology, first developing a wide-view, 98-electrode implant and then a high-acuity implant with 1,024 electrodes, the scientists said.

Australia has prioritized bionic research for years now, with the government committing more than $50 million over four years to groups developing similar devices. 

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