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MEMS-based systems to help blind individuals

Posted: 19 Sep 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:microelectromechanical systems? mems? electrode? photo-transducing? packaging?

A recent arrival in the race to give sight to the blind is a system that will use microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)-based electrodes to perform the functions normally carried out by cells in the eye.

The idea, funded by a $9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, is being developed by a multidisciplinary team led by researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

A matrix of 1000 tiny electrodes will be placed on the retinas of people whose photo-transducing rod and cone cells have been damaged by the macular degeneration caused by aging and diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa. These conditions leave intact the neural pathways that carry electrical impulses from the eye to the brain.

The MEMS elements will be implanted inside the eye's vitreous humor, directly stimulating the nerve endings to produce images of sufficient quality to read large print and distinguish between objects in a room.

At first, the system will use a "crude, shotgun approach" that fires groups of nerves. But the ultimate aim is to stimulate individual nerves. The project will increase the sensor resolution from a 10x10 array to a 33x33 array in 2004.

The principal challenge with implantable devices is packaging and biocompatibility, said Mike Daily, one of the researchers. Other issues being investigated include finding which electronic waveforms best stimulate the nerves.

- Paul Marsh

EE Times

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