The First Artificial Retina:
Has my idea become a reality?

In 1971 I was experimenting with human vision. I was able to gather data on how the human visual system interprets external stimulus that results in sight. My research indicated that several groups around the country were experimenting with analog TV cameras connected to a push pin tactile matrix worn on the back of a volunteer. I was working at Raytheon Submarine Signal Division in Portsmouth, R.I. at the "shake and bake" laboratory. The beginnings of large scale integrated circuits where just being used in sonar systems. Part of my job was to analyse why the circuits failed. Working with the devices under a microscope I had an appreciation for the scale that electronic circuits where heading.

While at Raytheon I approached my supervisor regarding an idea I had to build a demonstration device. I was given a small budget and I built a matrix display device to demonstrate the concept that a solid state matrix made up of many individual light sensitive semiconductor elements in a matrix format could serve as an imaging device or artificial retina. The article in the company newsletter sums up my project. I had submitted a proposal to the National Institute of Health (NIH) for support. I didn't get a grant...they found out I was only 19 and not in any official capacity...but my idea was now in the public domain and I had hoped that someone might move forward with the concept.

My initial motivation for pursuing the investigation of artificial vision was triggered by seeing a boy my age who was blind. I was 11 at the time and would see him, with his parents, in church. I wondered if they were praying for a miracle to restore his sight. I was always a science/technology geek and figured maybe technology can supply the miracle. Eight years later I tried to build such a device.

Now in 2010 it looks like my idea, which I am sure others have had, but not in 1971, may be closer to reality. Was I the first to specify and build an actual, working device to demonstrate the concept? It would be nice to know if that were indeed the case. What is more important is that my idea is becoming a reality and someday soon a child in church with his parents praying for a miracle will have their prayers answered thanks to an idea and technology! --- David G. Iadevaia  Tucson, AZ

1971 Raytheon Newsletter Announcing Project    
2010 US Department Of Energy Artificial Retina Story

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