Research

Fig. 1: Degenerative retinal diseases cause irreversible vision loss in more than 10 million people worldwide. Analogous to cochlear implants, retinal prostheses electrically stimulate surviving retinal cells in order to evoke neuronal responses that are inter-preted by the brain as visual percepts (‘phosphenes’).

Restoring vision to the blind

The ‘bionic eye’—so long a dream of the future—is finally becoming a reality with retinal prostheses available in the US and Europe (Fig. 1; over 500 patients implanted). With cortical implants, optogenetic approaches, and stem cell therapy in development, a wide range of sight restoration (SR) options should be available to patients diagnosed with severe blindness within the next decade.

Despite the increasing clinical and commercial use of these devices, the perceptual experience of SR patients is surprisingly poorly understood. A common misconception in the field is that each electrode in an array can be thought of as a ‘pixel’ in an image; to generate a complex visual experience, one then simply needs to turn on the right combination of pixels. However, almost all SR technologies are likely to suffer from perceptual distortions and subsequent loss of information due to interactions between the technology and the underlying neurophysiology.

The goal of our research is therefore:

  • to understand how interactions between SR technologies and neurophysiological mechanisms shape the visual perception of SR patients, and
  • to use this knowledge to develop advanced stimulation strategies for different SR devices, with the ultimate goal of restoring useful vision to the blind.

Clinical studies have demonstrated that the vision provided by current SR devices differs substantially from normal sight.

Rather than predicting perceptual distortions, one needs to solve the inverse problem: What is the best stimulus to generate a desired visual percept?

Novel stimulation strategies can be tested on sighted subjects viewing a simulation of prosthetic vision in virtual/augmented reality.
  • Bionic Vision Lab
    • Brain Sciences

      Computational Neuroscience · ML/AI
      Visual Neuroscience
    • Vision Sciences

      Computer Vision · Psychophysics
      Low Vision · Sight Restoration
    • Brain-Computer Interfaces

      Neural Engineering · VR/AR/XR
      Assistive Technologies

Our group combines expertise across disciplines including computer science, computational neuroscience, and psychology. Joining us requires a specific mindset—realizing that we can’t all possibly know everything, but that everyone provides a specific piece to the puzzle (see below for our current openings).

Together we want to do science that matters.

Lab members

Principal Investigator

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Michael Beyeler

Assistant Professor

PhD Students

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DYNS

Justin Kasowski

PhD Student

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CS

Aiwen Xu

PhD Student

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CS

Jacob Granley

PhD Student

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PBS

Byron Johnson

PhD Student

MS Students

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CE

Ziming Qi

MS Student

Undergraduate Students

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CS

Nathan Wu

Honors Student

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PBS

Anvitha Akkaraju

Research Assistant

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PBS

Tanya Bhatia

Research Assistant

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CE

Lu Han

Lab Volunteer

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PBS

Yuchen Hou

Research Assistant

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CS

Dylan Lin

Lab Volunteer

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PBS

Ananth Mahes

Research Assistant

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PBS

Rachel Mochizuki

Honors Student

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PBS

Ryan Neydavood

Research Assistant

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PSTAT

Ruben Olmos

Research Assistant

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PSTAT

Shuyun Tang

Research Assistant

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MCDB

Archita Tharanipathy

Research Assistant

Alumni

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Ethan Gao

Visiting Scholar
Ojai Valley School
(Summer 2020)

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Zuying Hu

MS Student
CS @ UCSB
(2020)

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Ori Mizrahi

Research Assistant
CS @ UCSB
(2020)

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Kha Nguyen

Visiting Scholar
UC San Diego
(Summer 2020)

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Rashi Raghulan

Research Assistant
MCDB @ UCSB
(2019 - 2020)

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Versha Rohatgi

Visiting Scholar
Mountain View High
(Summer 2020)

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Yusong Yan

Lab Volunteer
CS @ UCSB
(Summer 2020)

Join Us

We are looking for curious and talented individuals who share our vision of helping the blind see again. If you are interested in joining us, check out our Lab Manual to familiarize yourself with our lab policies.

Postdocs

Please contact Michael with your CV and a brief statement of research accomplishments, interests, and career plans. Although all applicants are welcome, we are especially looking for expertise at the intersection of computational neuroscience and data science.

To be considered, you will need at least one publication in a high-quality international conference (computer science) or journal (neuroscience) and you need to have a reasonable chance of getting a fellowship to support your stay at UCSB.

PhD Students

If you are looking for a graduate position and you are not already at UCSB, the deadline to join us in Fall 2021 has now passed. The next deadline will happen in December 2021.

CS Master's Students

If you are a UCSB CS Master’s student looking for a project, please contact Michael to set up a time to meet.

We are looking for students interested in applying their methodological skills to research problems in bionic vision. All students should have a solid programming background and strengths in one of the following:

  • Human-computer interaction: Build VR/AR/XR applications applied to low vision and bionic vision (Unity, compute shaders, image processing, bionic vision simulations, eye tracking)
  • Machine learning/data science: Build predictive models applied to real-world datasets collected on retinal prosthesis patients (classification, regression, time-series analysis, interpretable models, heterogeneous data).
  • Software engineering/parallel programming: Develop parallelization back ends for pulse2percept, our open-source Python-based simulation framework (Python, Cython, SciPy, OpenMP, GPGPU, JAX).

Undergraduate Students

If you are a UCSB undergraduate interested in joining the lab, please contact Michael with your prior experience and your transcript (unofficial is fine) and we can arrange a meeting.

In general, students stay for several quarters (one quarter is not enough to get up to speed) and work for academic credit or on a volunteer basis. Students should have a GPA of ≥ 3.0 (University requirement).

Typical responsibilities include one or more of the following:

  • Assist in running behavioral studies (typically PSY-99 / 199)
  • Develop applications for pulse2percept (typically CS-196)
  • Get hands-on research experience by shadowing a PhD student
  • Process and analyze scientific data
  • Perform literature reviews
  • Attend weekly lab meetings and present once a quarter

Prior research and/or programming experience is not necessary, but will drastically increase your chances of getting in (e.g., Python/R, Matlab, Unity, web-dev). For more information on expectations, responsibilities, and how your performance will be evaluated, please refer to our Lab Manual.

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