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Caltech scientists create robot surrogate for blind persons in testing visual prostheses
Date:10/19/2009

PASADENA, Calif.Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a remote-controlled robot that is able to simulate the "visual" experience of a blind person who has been implanted with a visual prosthesis, such as an artificial retina. An artificial retina consists of a silicon chip studded with a varying number of electrodes that directly stimulate retinal nerve cells. It is hoped that this approach may one day give blind persons the freedom of independent mobility.

The robotor, rather, the mobile robotic platform, or roveris called CYCLOPS. It is the first such device to emulate what the blind can see with an implant, says Wolfgang Fink, a visiting associate in physics at Caltech and the Edward and Maria Keonjian Distinguished Professor in Microelectronics at the University of Arizona. Its development and potential uses are described in a paper recently published online in the journal Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine.

An artificial retina, also known as a retinal prosthesis, may use either an internal or external miniature camera to capture images. The captured images then are processed and passed along to the implanted silicon chip's electrode array. (Ongoing work at Caltech's Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory by Fink and Caltech visiting scientist Mark Tarbell has focused on the creation and refinement of these image-processing algorithms.) The chip directly stimulates the eye's functional retinal ganglion cells, which carry the image information to the vision centers in the brain.

CYCLOPS fills a void in the process of testing visual prostheses, explains Fink. "How do you approximate what the blind can see with the implant so you can figure out how to make it better?" he asks.

One way is to test potential enhancements on a blind person who has been given an artificial retina. And, indeed, the retinal implant research team does this often, and ex
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Contact: Lori Oliwenstein
lorio@caltech.edu
626-395-3631
California Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert  

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