Argus Glasses Allow the Blind to See
Kyle Maxey posted on August 08, 2013 |

For centuries, the blind have been confined to a world that is vastly different from that of those who see. However, Second Sight’s Argus system is about to take the first step toward giving vision to those who can’t see.

The Argus, which takes its name from the Greek god whose body was covered in a hundred eyes – although personally, I’d have called it the LaForge – is a collection of devices, centered around a pair of glasses, that gives the blind the ability to perceive a rough sketch of the world around them. In low resolution black and white, the Argus paints a portrait of the borders and boundaries of the everyday world.

While Argus can give a rough perception of the wearer’s surroundings, it’s not a perfect recreation of vision. Patients outfitted with an Argus device will see black and white edges colored with high contrast points that the brain can be trained to use as a method of sight. Although the system only produces a low-resolution image, it’s enough to allow a user to cross a street safely or move across unfamiliar territory with confidence.

According to Dean Lloyd, an early adopter of the Argus, “You have to learn to see again, but people who have this implant were people that used to see.” Lloyd continued, “As you go through life, you still have pictures in your brain of everything you’ve seen before. So, you’re creating yourself an image that matches what’s in your memory. It’s a concept that a lot of people don’t get when they think about this device.”

To create the images, the system uses an array of electrodes implanted on a patients retina, a pair of glasses fitted with a video camera, and a digital signal processor. As light enters the camera, a chip at its core translates light into electrical signals and beams that information to the electrodes mounted on the wearer’s retina. The electrodes then tickle the nerve cells in the retina and send signals to the brain, which are processed as visual information – lending sight to the Argus user.

Even though the Argus system is an engineering marvel, it does have its drawbacks. As Lloyd said, since it relies on existing live optical nerves, it only works on those who have live optical nerves, and a missing set is one of the causes of blindness. That leaves a large portion of the blind community still in the dark.

With that said, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the Argus for widespread use, and people who experience certain types of blindness will have access to these new wearable computers in short order.  

In coming the years, improvements to the Argus system will continue to increase the device’s resolution, upgrade its digital signal processor, and revamp its software to provide the blind with a clearer glimpse of the world.

Watch a Video of Barbara Campbell Using the Argus in NYC

Images and Video Courtesy of Wired and The New York Times

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