Year after year, you gradually start to lose your vision, and you know that at one point you will become completely blind. A new prosthetic vision device, however, known as the bionic eye, has shown promise in restoring vision to those with degenerative eye diseases by sending lightwave signals to the optic nerve, helping people see the world again.

Dr. Joseph Rizzo, founder of “The Bionic Eye” and director of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear’s Neuro-Ophthalmology Service, came across the idea of a bionic eye while performing transplant surgery. He realized as he was cutting into the retina that he was cutting nerve tissue that was still intact in patients with diseases he was working to treat. "So it made much more sense to me to utilize those nerve fibers that are there rather than trying to recreate nerve connections with the transplant," he says in the General Electric video below.

Constructing the bionic eye involves a process similar to that of making computer chips, in which ultrathin and flexible electrode arrays are made to contact the retina without damaging it. The array is fed signals from a digital camera that is placed at the edge of a patients glasses — image quality is comparable to a cell phone camera. Ideally, the bionic eye will work by converting the information from the camera into signals that the electrodes implanted in the eye can use to send to the brain, which will interpret them. The hardest part is turning the camera signal into an appropriate type of pulse that the brain will understand and turn into a visual perception.

The device can help patients with degenerative eye disease to see shapes, outlines, and partial images. Unfortunately, the device does not work on all types of blindness. Patients need to have at least 10 percent of their optic nerve intact because it needs to utilize the optic nerve to send the signal to the brain.

The bionic eye may help give the 39 million blind people worldwide the gift of sight.