In 2012 an early prototype bionic eye device was implanted in three patients with retinitis pigmentosa. On switch on, all three patients reported being able to see flashes of light as each of their electrodes was stimulated.
The prototype was designed for use in the lab to help researchers learn more about how the brain will interpret information from electrical stimulation of the implant. Feedback from patients allowed researchers to develop more sophisticated vision processing and stimulation techniques.
In 2013, researchers connected an external camera to the implant, and patients were able to recognise basic shapes, including letters and numbers.
In 2014, participants used a portable system and camera to undertake mobility tasks in a laboratory setting. The patients were able to use visual information from the device to navigate to targets and around obstacles. These patient tests also received significant media coverage. The participants also used the device in research settings to undertake basic tasks of daily living such as identifying common objects on a table.
This study concluded in 2014.
This device included a retinal implant with 24 electrodes. A small lead wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector behind the ear. An external system is connected to this unit in the laboratory, allowing researchers to stimulate the implant. This electrical stimulation produces visual perceptions (called phosphenes) that appear as spots or flashes of light.