Doctors at the University of Manchester implanted the first Argus II bionic eye in a patient in 2009, a promising step in a field that affects the 36 million people who experience blindness worldwide as a result of illness or injury. Engadget reports that now, a full decade later, the makers of the Argus II are working on an enhanced version of the bionic eye called the Orion Visual Cortical Prosthesis System that would be directly implanted into the user’s brain.
Developed by Second Sight Medical Products, the Orion is composed of three main parts: a tiny camera that captures images while mounted on a pair of glasses, a video-processing unit that converts those images into interpretable electrical impulses, and an implant that allows the user’s brain to create a perceived image from those images.
“They put the electrode array in there between the two halves of the brain against the visual cortex,” Second Sight CEO Will McGuire told Engadget. “Then they basically screw the electronics package into the skull, just next to the craniotomy.”
The Argus II implants clamped onto the patient’s optic nerves. The Orion is installed via a small craniotomy in the back of the patient’s head, above the occipital lobe, sitting on the brain itself. Once the implant is complete the real work starts. The patient stays in the hospital for three to four weeks, where the patient is fitted with glasses and learns to see spots of light called phosphenes from the electronics.
“It’s done over and over for each electrode — we really have to train them not to move their eyes, which is the natural response when you see light,” Nik Talbot, Second Sight’s senior director of implant and R&D explained. “As they move their eyes, the brain is expecting to see something different, where in fact, they’re not going to see anything different because they’re taking in everything through the camera. So they have to be taught to keep their eyes looking forward, the same as the camera.”