Beyond the eye

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When you think about what parts of your body you’d give up if you had to, eyes come as just about the last thing anyone would give up. Today if you lose an eye you can replace it with an artificial one, but unfortunately technology hasn’t gotten us yet to a point where an artificial eye could also replace the functions of a natural eye. A bionic eye implant would be a possible solution allowing to return vision to visually impaired people. In a bionic eye, a camera would be used to capture pictures and a processing unit, about the size of a small hand held computer and worn on a belt, would convert the visual information into electrical signals. The idea of a bionic eye has been around for a while, but full recovery of vision won’t be possible at least for the next few years, however rapid technological innovation may be.

Some individuals who have suffered a loss of an eye have still taken their injury beyond the artificial eye replacement and have created initiatives to make innovative post-eye loss development possibilities. Tanya Vlach, a San Francisco based multidisciplinary artist and producer was one of the first  to initiate a movement towards hi-tech camera usage in artificial eyes. She lost her eye in a car accident during the hurricane Katrina and decided to post a call for engineers on her blog one-eyed to transform her artificial eye into a Web-functional digital video camera. The design of the camera would include Bluetooth, a remote trigger, and even blink-responsive sensors for functions such as focusing and zoom. Although Vlach’s project is still in its early days, Rob Spence, a filmmaker has designed a similar prototype.

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I am not restoring vision, I’m just modifying my prosthetic eye into a video camera with the same capabilities as a modern cell phone. I can stream the footage, save it to a hard-drive, or put it in my documentary film called Eye 4 an Eye.

Such devices will bring us closer to lifestyle elements associated with Augmented Reality. Spence is, as he says, “actually in the lab putting an eye together”, with the camera soon to be combined with a battery and wireless capabilites. Spence is working with award winning electrical engineering professor Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable computer and recording devices like web cams. Spence is planning to use the eye camera to create a documentary exploring issues surrounding how cameras in public places invade privacy.