Two completely blind patients received a neuroprosthetic implant in April from the The Dobelle Institute. After some reorientation, they can now walk around a room without running into desks and chairs, and even drive a car (on a private course)!
OK, so they can’t quite yet enjoy the subtle strokes of Monet, but they can see flashes of white light from their surroundings of which they must learn to interpret. This is still a fabulous development and a critical start to initiate more technological improvements towards restoring shape recognition and color sensitivity to the blind.
The current device takes images from a small camera mounted on special sunglasses. A computer processes the images and sends some electrical signals directly to the visual cortex (a chunk of brain in the back of your head). These visual system brain cells are stimulated in some unknown way, and the patient sees stars.
This is quite an interesting technique because it bypasses the eyes’ input neurons, and sends information directly to the brain. Recent alternative techniques collect light focused on the retina at the back of the eye. Then the brain may interpret the information through estalished image processing neural patheways, just as if the eye were functioning normally.
A direct shot of visual information to the brain’s visual cortex requires special training of the patients so that they may adopt an understanding of exactly how the pattern of white spots relate to the real world. So, this might not be an ubiquitous approach, but best for patients who have completely damaged or removed retinas from an injury.