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’).

Towards a Smart Bionic Eye: Artificial Vision for the Treatment of Incurable Blindness

How can we return a functional form of sight to people who are living with incurable blindness? Few disabilities affect human life more than the loss of the ability to see. Although some affected individuals can be treated with surgery or medication, and recent advances in gene and stem cell therapies are showing great promise, there are no effective treatments for many people blinded by severe degeneration or damage to the retina, the optic nerve, or cortex. In such cases, an electronic visual prosthesis (“bionic eye”, Fig. 1) may be the only option. Analogous to cochlear implants, these devices electrically stimulate surviving retinal cells to evoke visual percepts (“phosphenes”). Existing devices generally provide an improved ability to localize high-contrast objects and perform basic orientation & mobility tasks.

However, the quality of current prosthetic vision is still rudimentary. A major outstanding challenge is translating electrode stimulation into a code that the brain can understand. Interactions between the device electronics and the retinal neurophysiology lead to distortions that can severely limit the quality of the generated visual experience.

Rather than aiming to one day restore natural vision (which may remain elusive until we fully understand the neural code of vision), we might be better off thinking about how to create practical and useful artificial vision now. Specifically, a visual prosthesis has the potential to provide visual augmentations through the means of artificial intelligence (AI) based scene understanding (e.g., by highlighting important objects), tailored to specific real-world tasks that are known to affect the quality of life of people who are blind (e.g., face recognition, outdoor navigation, self-care).

In the future, these visual augmentations could be combined with GPS to give directions, warn users of impending dangers in their immediate surroundings, or even extend the range of visible light with the use of an infrared sensor (think bionic night-time vision). Once the quality of the generated artificial vision reaches a certain threshold, there are a lot of exciting avenues to pursue.

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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CS

Jacob Granley

PhD Student

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DYNS

Justin Kasowski

PhD Student

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CS

Aiwen Xu

PhD Student

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PBS

Byron Johnson

PhD Student

Staff Scientists

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PBS

Ryan Neydavood

Lab Manager

Undergraduate Students

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PBS

Anvitha Akkaraju

Honors Student

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PBS

Tanya Bhatia

Honors Student

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ENV

Annika Brydon

Lab Volunteer

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PBS

Yuchen Hou

Research Assistant

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PBS

Ananth Mahes

Research Assistant

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PBS, MATH

Bill Nguyen

Honors Student

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MCDB

Archita Tharanipathy

Research Assistant

Alumni

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Rami Dabit

Research Assistant
CE @ UCSB
(Spring 2021)

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Ethan Gao

Visiting Scholar
Ojai Valley School
(Summer 2020)

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Lu Han

Lab Volunteer
CE @ UCSB
(Spring 2021)

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Zuying Hu

MS Student
CS @ UCSB
(2020)

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Dylan Lin

Research Assistant
CS @ UCSB
(2020 - 2021)

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Ori Mizrahi

Research Assistant
CS @ UCSB
(2020)

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Rachel Mochizuki

Honors Student
PBS @ UCSB
(2021)

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Iris Moini-Nazeri

Research Assistant
(CS @ UCSB)
(Spring 2021)

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Sairisheek Muttukuru

Research Assistant
CE @ UCSB
(Spring 2021)

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Kha Nguyen

Visiting Scholar
UC San Diego
(Summer 2020)

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Ruben Olmos

Research Assistant
PSTAT @ UCSB
(2021)

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Ziming Qi

MS Student
CE @ UCSB
(2020 - 2021)

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Fatima Qubadi

Research Assistant
PBS @ UCSB
(Spring 2021)

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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, 2021)

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Angel Solares

Research Assistant
PBS @ UCSB
(2021)

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Yuval Steinhart

Research Assistant
CS @ UCSB
(Spring 2021)

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Shuyun Tang

Research Assistant
PSTAT @ UCSB
(2021)

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Nathan Wu

Honors Student
CS @ UCSB
(2020 - 2021)

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Kelly Yan

Research Assistant
CS @ UCSB
(Spring 2021)

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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 passion for bionic vision. If you are interested in joining us, check out our Lab Manual to familiarize yourself with our lab policies.

PhD Students

We are hiring! The next opportunity to join our lab is Fall 2022 (application deadline: December 2021).

We are looking to fill an NIH-funded PhD position in computational neuroscience. The project involves developing computational and data-driven models of the mouse visual cortex in collaboration with Spencer Smith (UCSB), Michael Goard (UCSB), and Cris Niell (U Oregon). Contact Michael for more info.

For all other positions, please first apply to one of the following Graduate programs:

You will then be able to indicate your wish to work with Michael in the “Major and Degree Objective” tab under “Faculty Interests”.

Please know that we get a lot of emails from prospective PhD students. If you decide to contact Michael before applying to the program, you can make your application stand out by demonstrating that you have spent some time on our website and thought hard about why bionic vision is a good fit for your skills and interest.

CS Master's Students

We have several MS positions available for Fall 2021:

  • 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)
  • Biomedical image analysis: Build predictive models applied to biomedical image datasets (registration, segmentation, self-supervised learning)-
  • Neuromorphic engineering: Build brain-inspired event-based vision systems applied to scene understanding (silicon retina, spiking neural networks)

Please contact Michael to set up a time to meet.

Undergraduate Students

We have a limited number of RA positions available for Fall 2021 (e.g., via PSY-199 or CS-196):

  • Visual psychophysics: Design and run behavioral studies using VR/AR simulations of bionic vision (Unity, vision science)
  • Develop applications for pulse2percept (Python)
  • Web development: Maintain and extend bionic-vision.org (React, HTML, CSS, MongoDB)

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).

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

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