Have you ever tried tracing braille with the tip of your fingers? Do you find it hard to distinguish each letter? Even though blind people certainly get a lot of practice, it is still often difficult for them to read quickly with accuracy. However, Second Sight Medical Products, a company that specializes in manufacturing visual prosthetics, introduced a new device called Argus II that allows blind patients to see braille.
The device is specifically designed to restore partial vision to patients whose outer retina has degenerated, which hinders the patients’ ability to input any visual information from their surrounding.
Some conditions that lead to this degeneration include macular degeneration, a common form of blindness in elderly patients, and retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic defect that damages the cone cells in the retina.
In a recent clinical trial, the device demonstrated success in 50 blind patients who were able to read four-letter words at a quick speed with 80 percent accuracy. The device is comprised of a camera, which records images of surrounding objects. The image is then projected onto the retina, which sends electrical signals to the brain.
Like cochlear implants, or auditory prosthetics, this device attaches electrodes directly onto the retina, allowing patients to distinguish between braille patterns. Their heightened ability to read indicated that the resolution of the electrodes attached on the retina was fine enough for the patients to clearly recognize each electric stimuli generated from 6 by 10 electrode array, which resides on the surface of the retina.
Argus II was recently approved for marketing in Europe and will hopefully be available in the United States in the near future.