A 58-year-old woman named Carmen Torres has become the first person in the US state of Florida to have a bionic eye installed. The device has already allowed her to see light and basic shapes for the first time in 13 years, and with further training she'll be able to view the world in even more detail.
Torres was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when she was 18, a condition that gradually causes the light-sensing rod cells in the eye's retina to die off, and over time this severely deteriorates vision. By the age of 45, Torres was declared legally blind, and couldn't see her own face in the mirror anymore.
But nine months ago, she had an Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System surgically implanted. The bionic eye device works by recording everything that Torres sees via a tiny camera embedded into a pair of sunglasses. The video images are then transmitted by WiFi to a small wearable computer, which converts them into electrical impulses that are sent to an electrode array inside her eye (hence the surgery). These electrical impulses painlessly trigger the optic nerve and make the brain 'see' patterns of light.
As you can see in the video below, the image that comes through isn't quite the same as seeing something with your own eyes, but just like learning another language, Torres has now learnt to interpret these into useful images. She's already able to make out shapes such as buildings and people, and she can even see the stars in the night sky using the bionic eye.
"It's very emotional," she told reporters at a press conference, referring to being able to see again. "But I am very strong and I didn't cry. I was happy and just laughing like crazy."
Torres is one of around 100 people around the world who have had a bionic eye installed. Right now, the system is still undergoing trials to demonstrate how effective it is for treating age-related vision loss and retinitis pigmentosa, but three years in and 89 percent of patients have been able to see again using the device. The researchers are also looking into ways they could use the bionic eye to help a broader range of visually impaired patients.
Watch the video below to see Torres talk about her regained vision. Tip: ignore the newsreader's pretty terrible commentary, and focus on how damn happy it makes her. We can't wait until these devices are accessible to a lot more people around the world.