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Cybernetic eye helps the blind see

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Scientists in Portugal have perfected a device that helps blind people see. It’s a series of computer signals that bypass the “dead” eyes of people who are totally or legally blind, going directly to the brain. A person who has had special electrodes implanted in the brain will then wear a special pair of glasses that have a camera that captures video images and then sends them to the electrodes.

It’s not 100 percent images by any means; rather, what the person sees can best be described as the results of a flashbulb going off. The person sees flashes and an outline of what is there. But for someone who would otherwise see nothing at all, it is a vast improvement.

A total of 16 people have received the treatment so far, and all have reported seeing exactly what researchers expected them to see. The one caveat is that the patient must have had sight at one time; those blind from birth don’t have the necessary optic nerve capacity. The procedure’s cost runs about US$120,000; for those who now enjoy the benefits, it was worth it.

Availability in countries other than Portugal remains to be seen.

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