Researchers in England’s prestigious University of Oxford developed an artificial eye! It’s more than just an iPhone camera because it is made of a synthetic soft tissue double layered retina very similar to our human retina. Our eyes transform light into electrical that travel through the nervous system into and translated in the brain.
They built this replica out of hydrogels (soft water droplets) and biological cell membrane proteins. These cells are like pixels reacting to light creating grey scale images.
“The synthetic material can generate electrical signals, which stimulate the neurons at the back of our eye just like the original retina,” Restrepo-Schild said.
Because this soft artificial eye is made of organic material, it can be implanted into a body easier and without as much rejection. This advantage is the main reason for developing such technology to merge with living bodies.
“But a biological synthetic implant is soft and water based, so much more friendly to the eye environment. I have taken the principals behind vital bodily functions, e.g. our sense of hearing, touch and the ability to detect light, and replicated them in a laboratory environment with natural, synthetic components.”
“I hope my research is the first step in a journey towards building technology that is soft and biodegradable instead of hard and wasteful.”
Where will this research take us? Is there a fine line between helping disabled people and controlling, monitoring, disabling them? Advances in this “soft” technology may be a double-edged sword with risks as well as advantages.
- Vanessa Restrepo Schild et al. 2017. Light-Patterned Current Generation in a Droplet Bilayer Array. Scientific Reports 7, article number: 46585; doi: 10.1038/srep46585