May 9 - Engineers in Israel are developing a contact lens they say will allow the blind to recognise objects by feel rather than sight. The lens is being designed to translate electrical signals into shapes on the cornea, producing a tactile effect similar to Braille on the fingertips. Rob Muir has more.
It's a contact lens that could one day help the blind to see. The lens is embedded with a matrix of sensors designed to lie against the cornea, Those sensors will convert images sent by a tiny camera into electrical signals that stimulate nerves on the eye surface according to co-developer Zeeva Zelevsky. . (SOUNDBITE) (English) ZEEV ZALEVSKY, RESEARCHER IN THE FACULTY OF ENGINEERING AT BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "This spatial tactile sensation, after proper training, can be recognised as the spatial shape that was imaged by the camera." And that, says Zelevsky, will help the blind perceive objects around them. The system is still being developed but a prototype device using tiny pipes to deliver air pressure - instead of electrical signals - demonstrates how the system will work. Zalevsky and project manager Yevgeny Biederman are using letters Biederman can't see, displayed on the screen behind him. "T" (SOUNDBITE) (English) YEVGENY BEIDERMAN, PROJECT MANAGER AND RESEARCHER IN ELECTRO-OPTICAL LAB, SAYING: " We want to prove the concept of our device. Later we will replace these pipes with the contact lens and electric circuits which will stimulate our eye instead of these pipes." Zalevsky says the lens converts signals for the brain much like braille. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ZEEV ZALEVSKY, RESEARCHER IN THE FACULTY OF ENGINEERING AT BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "In a sense what we are doing is similar to how they read braille writing with the tips of their fingers, but in our case it is like they take out their eye ball and reach it towards the object that is facing in front of the camera and feeling it with the cornea, with the surface of the eye." Zalevsky says for the blind, the technology could be transformative. He hopes to have it available within three years.