A new artificial eye has been created which incorporates densely packed, nanometre-scale light sensors into a hemispherical retina-like component … just like its real-world biological counterpart.
The team, from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, say their proof-of-concept bionic device surpasses the sensitivity of a human eye and allows for a future with better vision prostheses and humanoid robotics.
The new design is based around a three-dimensional artificial retina and features a dense array of extremely light-sensitive nanowires. These tiny sensors are made of from perovskite – a light-sensitive material normally used in solar cells.
The wires coming out the eye mimic how the brain’s visual cortex relies on the visual information for processing. Only here the data is processed by a computer rather than a brain.
What makes the development so exciting is that the nanowires used in the design are incredibly sensitive compared to a human eye.
Each nanowire is able to respond to wavelengths of light as short as 800 nanometers. This is the threshold between visual light and infrared radiation. This allows the eye to see in the dark.
What’s more, each square centimetre is packed with around 460 million nanosized sensors. For comparison, the retina of a human eye holds an estimated 10 million cells. That means the artificial eye is an order of magnitude more sensitive.
However, the normal caveats to this type of cutting edge research apply. The team were not able to demonstrate the full potential in terms of resolution in their initial prototypes and there is no way to connect it to the human visual system. Meaning a working prosthesis is still a very long way off.
The team remain optimistic that they can overcome these hurdles and believe that a working bionic eye is possible within the next decade.
Published as “A biomimetic eye with a hemispherical perovskite nanowire array retina” in Nature volume 581, pages278–282(2020)