Gentle touch and the bionic eye: Using haptics to improve outcomes for people given visual prosthetics

May 01, 2013

Normal vision is essentially a spatial sense that often relies upon touch and movement during and after development, there is often a correlation between how an object looks and how it feels. Moreover, as a child's senses develop, there is cross-referencing between the various senses. Indeed, where the links between the senses are not made, there may be developmental problems or delays. This should be taken into consideration when training new users of visual prosthetics, artificial retinas, or bionic eyes, suggest researchers in Australia.

Writing in the International Journal of Autonomous and Adaptive Communications Systems, a team at Monash University explain that haptic devices, technologies that simulate the feel of an object should be used as early as possible in children fitted with visual prosthetics, and also for older congenitally blind and late-blind people. The haptic device can provide supplementary or redundant information that allows cross-referencing with the from the prosthetic. This, George van Doorn and colleagues suggest will help train the brain more effectively to understand the electrical input it is receiving from the prosthetic.

The input to the brain from any of our senses is ultimately an electrochemical signal, no actual light, sounds, or other enters the brain. During , the brain learns to interpret these different signals. However, the brain can be retrained to "understand" inputs from seemingly odd places. For instance, researchers grafted an electronic , not dissimilar to a low-resolution digital camera, to a patient's tongue and then helped the patient learn how to interpret patterns of light hitting the sensor, even though the reach the brain from in the tongue.

At the moment, artificial retinas are very low resolution, a small array of a few dozen pixels, whereas a digital camera might have millions of pixels in its sensor. One can imagine that during the next few years artificial retinas will become more sophisticated and their resolution will increase. The limiting factor is the ability of the brain to be retrained to understand the input from these devices. Van Doorn and colleagues Barry Richardson and Dianne Wuillemin, experts in virtual reality, bionics and tactile technologies are now investigating how a haptic device might help. They suggest that exploiting multisensory processes will allow cross-calibration of information from the environment as well as assisting in teaching recipients of visual prosthetics to filter out noise, just as the brains of sighted individuals are able to do when looking at an object or scene.

The concepts are not unrelated to the ability of Braille readers to "see" text and deaf people to "hear" sign language. There are, however, critical periods in development when the brain is most receptive and plastic. Even poor sensory information is better than none at all, the team explains, provided that the different inputs correlate - from a visual prosthetic and haptic device, for instance - all tell the same story about the world. "The inescapable conclusion is that, if the aim of a bionic eye, or equivalent, is to restore functional vision in the young or less young, then a visual must operate in a multimodal context in which haptics will be a major player," the researchers conclude.

Explore further: Engineers complete first comprehensive mesh-free numerical simulation of skeletal muscle tissue

More information: "Fitting a bionic eye to the body: how haptics can help" in Int. J. Autonomous and Adaptive Communications Systems, 2013, 6, 377-390.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New-age prosthetic technique enables blind mice to see

Dec 23, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A recent TEDMED talk has scientists interested in a presenter’s novel techniques to help the blind. A device with two parts, encoder and transducer, can do the job. Sheila Nirenberg, a neuroscientist and professor at Weill Medical ...

See no shape, touch no shape, hear a shape?

Oct 18, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists at The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro, McGill University have discovered that our brains have the ability to determine the shape of an object simply by processing ...

Microchip success for bionic eye

Apr 03, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Research to restore sight to the clinically blind has reached a critical stage, with testing underway of the prototype microchips that will power the bionic eye.

Recommended for you

Desktop device to make key gun part goes on sale in US

2 hours ago

The creator of the world's first 3D plastic handgun unveiled Wednesday his latest invention: a pre-programmed milling machine that enables anyone to easily make the core component of a semi-automatic rifle.

Minimally invasive surgery with hydraulic assistance

8 hours ago

Endoscopic surgery requires great manual dexterity on the part of the operating surgeon. Future endoscopic instruments equipped with a hydraulic control system will provide added support during minimally ...

Analyzing gold and steel – rapidly and precisely

9 hours ago

Optical emission spectrometers are widely used in the steel industry but the instruments currently employed are relatively large and bulky. A novel sensor makes it possible to significantly reduce their size ...

More efficient transformer materials

10 hours ago

Almost every electronic device contains a transformer. An important material used in their construction is electrical steel. Researchers have found a way to improve the performance of electrical steel and ...

Sensor network tracks down illegal bomb-making

10 hours ago

Terrorists can manufacture bombs with relative ease, few aids and easily accessible materials such as synthetic fertilizer. Not always do security forces succeed in preventing the attacks and tracking down ...

Miniature camera may reduce accidents

10 hours ago

Measuring only a few cubic millimeters, a new type of camera module might soon be integrated into future driver assistance systems to help car drivers facing critical situations. The little gadget can be ...

User comments : 0