Believe it or not: 2016 will be the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Whether you prefer the Kirk/Spock yin/yang of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy or today’s prequel duo of Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, you must admit: many of their supporting crew members have been fascinating.
One such character was Geordi La Forge, acted by LeVar Burton in the Picard-era “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Blind from birth, La Forge gained exceptional eyesight using a Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement or VISOR, which captured images and sent signals to his optic nerves.
That was in a fictional 24th Century. In today’s very real 21st Century, ongoing research may help restore partial or full vision to people affected by eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Three schools are involved: the University of Southern California, North Carolina State University and the University of Utah.
One contributor is Utah’s Dr. Gianluca Lazzi, professor and department chair in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His work focuses on electromagnetic propagation, neurostimulation and the assessment of thermal and electromagnetic safety.
Lazzi’s team is developing the technology for a system that can provide partial sight by replacing the functionality of photoreceptor cells, which convert light into an electrical signal that is passed to the retinal cells. Although diseases such as AMD cause photoreceptors to slowly degrade, other neural retinal cells continue to function.
Implanted in a patient’s eye, the system includes a microchip, an antenna that receives power and external signals, and an array that provides electrical stimulation to the retina. The “eye” is an eyeglass-mounted external camera that captures and processes images then uses a telemetry system to send signals to the implanted device.
Subjects are able to distinguish light and dark to the extent that they can tell when someone is approaching, recognize windows and doors, and even discern numbers and letters. Perception improves as their brain adapts and learns how to use what it receives.
The developers are using Agilent oscilloscopes, arbitrary waveform generators and, especially, a vector network analyzer. The VNA has become essential to the development of telemetry, liquid-metal parameters and the optimization of device coupling.
Looking 15 years into the future, Lazzi envisions a solution that can be built into the human eye. Here’s hoping they can make it so.
To get more information on this article, please visit www.agilent.com/find/eduutah.