Saturday science subject: The bionic eye

A team of scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has come one step closer to creating a bionic eye. As Nature reports, materials scientist John Rogers and his colleagues have successfully developed a camera with a curved "retina" made up of silicon and metal wires. This application doesn't yield distorted images like cameras that focus light from a curved lens onto a flat surface, and some hail it as a major breakthrough.

The team's solution was to use a series of silicon photodetectors (pixels) connected by thin metal wires. This network is supported and encapsulated by a thin film of polyimide plastic, allowing the flexible scaffold to bend when compressed. This scaffold takes up the mechanical stress and protects the pixels as the array takes its hemispherical shape.

The team made a hollow dome about 2 centimetres wide from a rubber-like material called poly(dimethylsiloxane). They flattened out the stretchy dome, and attached the electronic mesh. Then, as the hollow dome snapped back into its original shape, it pulled the array with it, forming a hemisphere that could be attached to a lens; the basis of the camera

This camera doesn't just emulate the human eye because of its shape. Much like how our eyes move around constantly, Nature says the device takes multiple images at slightly different angles and subsequently combines them to "give a much sharper image."

According to Takao Someya from the University of Tokyo in Japan, the camera "marks a great advance in the field of stretchable electronics." Potential applications for the technology may include "bionic implants, robotic sensory skins and biomedical monitoring devices."

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