/ Modified dec 11, 2013 4:14 p.m.

Retinal Implants Get New Tech That Could Improve Clarity

Wolfgang Fink, member of the joint U.S.-German research team developing product said current retinal implants allow people to see, but only basic, blurry shapes.

New technology that could help blind people to see greater in detail may soon be available in the United States.

Tech Launch Arizona, the outreach arm created by the UA to spur partnerships between businesses and researchers, has applied for a patent for the new technology.

Wolfgang Fink, a member of the joint U.S.-German research team developing the new technology, said current retinal implants allow people to see, but only basic, blurry shapes.

"They can distinguish light from dark, and they may also be able to sort of localize where certain objects are and count them," said Fink, founder of the Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology and associate professor in the UA's College of Engineering.

However, the images still lack clarity. For instance, it may take the individual several seconds to scan and finally make-out letters on a page, even if the letters are in a large font size.

People who get implants to recover their sight, wear a specialized pair of glasses with a small camera. Images taken by the camera are sent to an external unit that processes the images and sends them to a chip implanted in the person's eye. That chip then stimulates the retina, enabling the person to see.

The limitation with current technology, Fink said, is in the way the implanted chip controls the electrodes in the eye.

The ultimate goal is to increase the number of electrodes on the implanted chip, and to control those electrodes in such a way that the individual can visually perceive every pixel transmitted by the external processing unit.

This new technology is a step in that direction.

"Think of you having a printer at home, and you download a new driver software, which gives the printer new capabilities which it did not have before," Fink said. "That is what we are doing."

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