Researchers in Germany are developing a software that can provide more clarified vision to blind or partially blind people by refining the information sent from a bionic eye to its wearer.
Retinal implants can restore some vision to blind or partially blind people by turning light into signals transmitted to the brain. So far, about 10 people in Germany and 15 in the US have been fitted with such implants although expanded US trials are planned.
"These people report seeing light and dark and maybe some limited fuzzy shapes. But they don't have any gestalt perception,” says Rolf Eckmiller, a computer scientist at Bonn University in Germany.
The new software works by refining the information sent from a bionic eye to its wearer.
Eckmiller says the secret to improving these implants is to match the signals they produce with the signals that a healthy eye sends to the brain.
One team in California, US, is trying to achieve that by building a copy of the retina's neurons in silicon.
Eckmiller, along with colleagues Oliver Baruth and Rolf Schatten, plan to use learning software instead.
In their system, a camera feeds information to a "retina encoder" - software that mimics the image processing done by a healthy retina.
The software learns the correct settings from a user through a "dialogue module" that tries different settings while a user looks at standard shapes.
The user selects the three settings that most closely match the real shape, and the software then presents six more settings based on these three. Over time, the system learns to produce a signal that provides a more accurate picture to the user's brain, reports New Scientist.
"It has hundreds of different parameters [that can] be properly tuned. But only one setting is appropriate to allow proper perception,” says Eckmiller. So far, trials involving more than 50 sighted people have been promising.