Towards a Smart Bionic Eye

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.

Smart Bionic Eye concept

Project Team

Project Lead:

Project Affiliates:

Sangita Kunapuli

BS/MS Student

Tori LeVier

Student Assistant

Principal Investigator:

Michael Beyeler

Assistant Professor


Eduardo Fernández Jover

Universidad Miguel Hernández, Spain

Project Funding

DP2-LM014268: Towards a Smart Bionic Eye: AI-Powered Artificial Vision for the Treatment of Incurable Blindness
PI: Michael Beyeler (UCSB)

September 2022 - August 2027
Common Fund, Office of the Director (OD); National Library of Medicine (NLM)
National Institutes of Health (NIH)


We present a series of analyses on the shared representations between evoked neural activity in the primary visual cortex of a blind human with an intracortical visual prosthesis, and latent visual representations computed in deep neural networks.

We present a systematic literature review of 227 publications from 106 different venues assessing the potential of XR technology to further visual accessibility.

We used a neurobiologically inspired model of simulated prosthetic vision in an immersive virtual reality environment to test the relative importance of semantic edges and relative depth cues to support the ability to avoid obstacles and identify objects.

Rather than aiming to represent the visual scene as naturally as possible, a Smart Bionic Eye could provide visual augmentations through the means of artificial intelligence–based scene understanding, tailored to specific real-world tasks that are known to affect the quality of life of people who are blind.

We combined deep learning-based scene simplification strategies with a psychophysically validated computational model of the retina to generate realistic predictions of simulated prosthetic vision.

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