Scientists have created a remote-controlled robot that is able to simulate the “visual” experience of a blind person who has been implanted with a visual prosthesis, such as an artificial retina.

An artificial retina comprises a silicon chip studded with a varying number of electrodes that directly stimulate retinal nerve cells. It potentially opens the way to giving the blind freedom of mobility.

The mobile robotic platform or rover is called CYCLOPS. It is the first such device to emulate what the blind can see with an implant, says Wolfgang Fink, visiting associate in physics at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) and professor of microelectronics, University of Arizona.

An artificial retina, also known as a retinal prosthesis, may use either an internal or external miniature camera to capture images.

The captured images then are processed and passed along to the implanted silicon chip’s electrode array - which is under development. The chip directly stimulates the eye’s functional retinal cells, which convey the information to the vision centres in the brain.

CYCLOPS fills a void in the process of testing visual prostheses, explains Fink. “How do you approximate what the blind can see with the implant so you can figure out how to make it better?” he asks, according to a Caltech release.

“A sighted person’s objectivity is impaired,” Fink says. “They may not be able to get to the level of what a blind person truly experiences.”

These findings were published online in Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine.

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