"And we can do better," says USC ophthalmology professor Mark Humayun, the surgeon who pioneered retinal implants and now directs the university project. He intends to implant a 60-electrode sensor with nearly four times the resolution of the original by early 2006 and a 256-electrode chip a few years later. His ultimate goal is 1,000 electrodes. "That should allow people to recognize a face and read," Humayun says. He's giving himself less than a decade to do it.
It's no slam-dunk. "Imagine throwing your TV set in the ocean and making it work," says Robert Greenberg, CEO of Second Sight, the California firm that builds the retinal implants. The eye is filled with saltwater that can corrode electrodes. And then there's the fact that humming electronics can sear nerves and blood vessels.