Retinal Implants: Visual Experience


Summary

The “Visual Experience” demonstrates the technology of retinal implants.  It is a sandbox tech demo that serves as a learning experience about vision loss.

Guests will wear a head-mounted display equipped with a camera; the display will show video from the camera that has been processed in real-time to resemble the low-resolution vision afforded by retinal implants.  In this sandbox experience, guests will be able to freely look about the room and at deliberately designed posters and physical objects.  This experience encourages guests to experiment with and adapt to their new vision, helping them empathize with those who suffer from vision loss as well as appreciate what can be accomplished even with low-resolution vision.

Retinal Implants
Retinal implants are medical devices that are surgically placed inside the eye.  An electrode array sits against the retina and stimulates the ganglion cell layer creating pixel-like “flashes of light” that form images in the brain.  The electrode reproduces the images sent to it from a camera worn on the front of the head.

Experience
In the museum, guests will encounter this exhibit as a head-mounted display with control buttons.  Instructions will invite them to try on the headset, which is designed to be worn like goggles.  When guests put on the head-mounted display, their field of vision will be blocked out and replaced by small screens that show processed live video from a camera mounted on the headset.  The processed video reduces images into a black-and-white grid based on brightness; the resolution of the grid directly corresponds to different important historical and theoretical milestones in retinal implant technology.  If guests press the control buttons, they can scan through these various resolutions to experience what it would be like to have the corresponding retinal implant.  Moreover, since the experience is worn, guests will have to the freedom to look around their surroundings, at text, at their hands, and at the faces of other people.  As guests scan through the various resolutions, they will begin to discover that there is much of their environment that they can in fact discern despite not having the crystal clear vision that they usually possess.  As they step away, we hope that it will dawn upon them that such vision provided by medical technology, though not ideal, is still enough for people to live effective lives.

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