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Software System to Improve the Function of Retinal Implants

Neural computation scientists at Bonn University have created a software system that is hoped to improve the function of retinal implants significantly. //With the aid of the software, the visual prosthesis "learns" to generate exactly those signals, which are expected and can be interpreted by the brain.

Nearly two dozens of patients in Germany and the U.S. have so far been implanted with a visual prosthesis. For this purpose, clinicians open the eye ball and attach a thin foil at the retina. Small protruding contacts reach neurons, which form the ganglion cell layer of the retina. These electrical stimulation contacts feed camera signals into the optic nerve. The camera may be attached to a frame of glasses and transmits its signals in a wireless fashion to the implant.

Currently, the results do not meet the high expectations. "The camera generates electrical signals, which are almost useless for the brain," comments Rolf Eckmiller, a professor at the Department of Computer Science at Bonn University. "Our own system translates the camera signals into a language, which the central visual system in the brain understands". Unfortunately, the central visual system of each individual speaks a different dialect; this poses a difficulty for the translator function. For this reason, the computer- and neural scientist developed the "Retina Encoder" together with his graduate students Oliver Baruth and Rolf Schatten. At the Hanover Fair he is looking for commercial partners for the next step into clinical trials.

"In principle, the Retina Encoder is a computer program that converts the camera signals and forwards them to the retinal implant," explains Oliver Baruth the function. "The encoder learns in a continuous process how to change the camera output signal so that the respective patient can perceive the image." Currently, tests of the learning dialog process are being performed with normally sighted volunteers. The camera images are t
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