Media Release28 June 2011
NICTA has developed a new microchip which is accelerating progress towards an Australian bionic eye.
Professor Stan Skafidas, NICTA Research Group Leader, Optics and Nanoelectronics, explains: “This microchip is one step towards the driver of our high-acuity retinal implant, which aims to restore a sense of vision for people with retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.”
Researchers have completed probe testing of the high-acuity chip, with encouraging results, and further testing is underway. The team will now work towards delivering a version of the chip with 1000 electrodes and wireless transfer of data and power. This microchip could then proceed to preclinical testing.
Professor Anthony Burkitt, Director of Bionic Vision Australia said: “This is an outstanding achievement, which will enable the team to progress with testing to inform the next iteration of the high-acuity device.”
The successful fabrication of this microchip means that researchers can now begin working on a design for the microchip with 1000 stimulation points, to be used in the high-acuity bionic eye device. The aim of this research is to develop technology that will provide enough visual detail for patients to be able to recognise faces and read large print.
“Our design also shows that the manufacturability of our device is a very real possibility. The substantial progress we have made in this regard is due to our strong working relationship with IBM, which has manufactured our chip,” Professor Skafidas added.
"IBM welcomes the news that tests of this first microchip are progressing well," said Glenn Wightwick, Director, Research & Development, IBM Australia. "IBM has had a long and successful partnership with NICTA and we are proud to be involved in this truly iconic project. NICTA brings world-leading nanoelectronics design capability and this is reflected in a number of innovations that are being included in the high acuity bionic eye. We are delighted to be able to support the fabrication of this device, enabling intelligence and wireless data transfer with smarter silicon.”
How it works
The high-acuity bionic eye will consist of a camera, attached to a pair of glasses, which captures images and sends them directly to a retinal implant, containing a microchip. This information is decoded by the microchip and informs the electrical stimulation of the retina. These signals are then passed along the optic nerve to the brain where they are interpreted as vision.
This technology aims to restore some sense of vision to people experiencing blindness due to degenerative conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.
Bionic Vision Australia is a national consortium of researchers from the Bionics Institute, Centre for Eye Research Australia, NICTA, the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales.
The Australian National University and the University of Western Sydney are project partners. The first patient implant procedures and tests will take place at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.
This research is funded by a $42 million grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC) through its Special Research Initiative (SRI) in Bionic Vision Science and Technology.
The project brings together a cross-disciplinary group of world-leading experts in the fields of ophthalmology, biomedical engineering, electrical engineering and materials science, neuroscience, vision science, psychophysics, wireless integrated-circuit design, and surgical, preclinical and clinical practice.
The first set of patient tests for BVA’s first generation bionic eye device, the wide-view retinal implant are planned to take place by 2013. The microchip for the wide-view implant was developed and announced in March 2011.
Patient tests of the second generation device, the high-acuity retinal implant will follow after the successful completion of the first patient tests with the wide-view device.
National ICT Australia Ltd (NICTA), Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research Centre of Excellence, is developing technologies which will meet the current and future needs of the community in fields which will lead to large economic, social and environmental benefits for Australia. NICTA has five laboratories around the country. Since NICTA was founded in 2002, it has created five new companies, developed a substantial technology and intellectual property portfolio and continues to supply new talent to the ICT industry through the NICTA-enhanced PhD program.
NICTA is funded by the Australian Government as represented by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and the Australian Research Council through the ICT Centre of Excellence program. In addition to federal funding NICTA is also funded and supported by the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian Governments, The Australian National University, Griffith University, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and The University of Sydney.
Please direct media queries to the Bionic Vision Australia Marketing and Communications Manager on +61 3 9035 8829 or to the NICTA Communications Team on +61 2 9376 2098.