A National Science Foundation news release details the long history of NSF funded research that has resulted in the the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis which gained FDA approval yesterday, becoming the first "bionic eye" approved for use in the United States. The cybernetic device consists of video camera glasses that wirelessly transmit an image to a microelectrode neural stimulator array implanted in the damaged retina, providing the brain with an image. The device can restore vision to victims of retinitis pigmentosa. From the news release:
"The implant allows some individuals with RP, who are completely blind, to locate objects, detect movement, improve orientation and mobility skills and discern shapes such as large letters."
The research began in the 1980s and received a first NFS grant in 1994. Twenty years and $40 million later, we have the first cure for this type of blindness. An improved unit that will fit entirely inside the human eye and has 15 times more electrodes exists in prototype form and will someday replace this initial externally worn unit. For more see the Second Sight news release and the functional description of the prosthesis. The NFS also posted several videos detailing the history of the research.