HONG KONG (Xinhua): An international team led by scientists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has developed the world's first 3D artificial eye with capabilities better than existing bionic eyes, bringing new hope to patients with visual impairment.
Scientists have spent decades trying to replicate the structure and clarity of a biological eye, but vision provided by existing prosthetic eyes, largely in the form of spectacles attached with external cables, are still in poor resolution with 2D flat image sensors, according to the HKUST on Tuesday (June 9).
The Electrochemical Eye (EC-Eye) developed at HKUST, however, not only replicates the structure of a natural eye for the first time, but may offer sharper vision than a human eye in the future, with extra functions such as the ability to detect infrared radiation in darkness.
The key feature allowing such breakthroughs is a 3D artificial retina, made of an array of nanowire light sensors which mimic the photoreceptors in human retinas.
Led by Fan Zhiyong, a professor from the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering at the HKUST, the research team connected the nanowire light sensors to a bundle of liquid-metal wires serving as nerves behind the man-made hemispherical retina during the experiment, and successfully replicated the visual signal transmission to reflect what the eye sees onto the computer screen.
The researchers said that as nanowires have even higher density than photoreceptors in human retina, the artificial retina can thus receive more light signals and potentially attain a higher image resolution than human retina, if the back contacts to individual nanowires are made in the future.
"Regardless of image resolution, angle of views or user-friendliness, the current bionic eyes are still of no match to their natural human counterpart. A new technology to address these problems is in urgent need, and it gives me a strong motivation to start this unconventional project," Fan said.
"In the next step, we plan to further improve the performance, stability and biocompatibility of our device. For prosthesis application, we look forward to collaborating with medical research experts who have the relevant expertise on optometry and ocular prosthesis," he added.
The team collaborated with the University of California, Berkeley, on this project and their findings were recently published in scientific journal Nature. - Xinhua