Solar-Powered Implants Could Help The Blind

For anyone who needed further evidence for the benefits of solar power: A new device being developed at Stanford University relies on solar-powered implants to help the blind, turning light signals into nerve impulses with special glasses that fire infrared signals onto an array of silicon photodiodes set in the eye.

"It works like the solar panels on your roof, converting light into electric current," Dr. Daniel Palanker, associate professor of ophthalmology, told GizMag. "But instead of the current flowing to your refrigerator, it flows into your retina."

While early models of implants relied on a bulky external power source, the system spearheaded by James Loudin and his colleagues at Stanford University simplifies the process by transmitting visual data to the implants directly. Their findings were published Monday in the journal Nature Photonics.

Right now, retinal implants can restore some degree of sight to blind people. But the implants need to be wired to an outside power source in order to keep charged. Plus, they’re big and unwieldy. New solar-powered implants could be much smaller and get power from light, eliminating the need for wires. These implants could also produce images with higher resolution than current implant technology can manage.

In an interview with Nature's Leigh Phillips, Loudin compared the implants to "Star Trek: The Next Generation" character Geordi LaForge's visor. “I'm not well versed in 'Star Trek' any more, and I don't think Geordi had implants,” he said. “However, like his visor, our patients cannot see without the goggles.”

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