Researchers in Germany have unveiled the Alpha IMS retinal prosthesis; a device that completely redefines the state of the art of implanted, bionic devices. The first round of clinical trials were a huge success, with eight out of nine patients reporting that they can now detect mouth shapes (smiles, frowns), small objects such as telephones and cutlery, signs on doors, and — most importantly — whether a glass of wine is red or white. The Alpha IMS, developed by the University of Tübingen in Germany, is exciting for two reasons. First, it is connected to your brain via 1,500 electrodes, providing unparalleled visual acuity and resolution (the recently-approved-in-the-US Argus II retinal prosthesis has just 60 electrodes). Second, Alpha IMS is completely self-contained: Where the Argus II relies on an external camera to relay data to the implant embedded in your retina, the Alpha IMS prosthesis has a built-in sensor that directly gathers its imagery from the light that passes into your eye. This has the knock-on effect that the Argus II requires you to turn your head if you wish to look from side to side, while the Alpha IMS allows you to swivel your eyeballs normally. In essence, Alpha IMS is the first true, self-contained bionic eye.
At this point, you really should watch the two videos below. The first demonstrates where Alpha IMS is implanted, and how it works. The second video shows one of the first patients to receive the Alpha IMS prosthesis, and how it felt to see his wife’s face for the first time. It isn’t clear in the video, but the device is powered wirelessly from a battery in the patient’s pocket.
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