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Scientists Develops World’s First 3D Artificial Eye with Capabilities Better than Existing Bionic Eyes

An international team led by scientists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has recently developed the world’s first 3D artificial eye with capabilities better than existing bionic eyes and in some cases, even exceed those of the human eyes, bringing vision to humanoid robots and new hope to patients with visual impairment.  The Electrochemical Eye (EC-Eye) developed at HKUST, however, not only replicates the structure of a natural eye for the first time, but may actually offer sharper vision than a human eye in the future, with extra functions such as the ability to detect infrared radiation in darkness.

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The key feature allowing such breakthroughs is a 3D artificial retina – made of an array of nanowire light sensors which mimic the photoreceptors in human retinas. Developed by Prof. FAN Zhiyong and Dr. GU Leilei from the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering at HKUST, the team connected the nanowire light sensors to a bundle of liquid-metal wires serving as nerves behind the man-made hemispherical retina during the experiment, and successfully replicated the visual signal transmission to reflect what the eye sees onto the computer screen.

Nanowires have even higher density than photoreceptors in human retina, the artificial retina can thus receive more light signals and potentially attain a higher image resolution than human retina – if the back contacts to individual nanowires are made in the future. With different materials used to boost the sensors’ sensitivity and spectral range, the artificial eye may also achieve other functions such as night vision. In the future, those nanowire light sensors could be directly connected to the nerves of the visually impaired patients. The team collaborated with the University of California, Berkeley on this project and their findings were recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.  

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