Researchers 3D Print Prototype for ‘Bionic Eye’

The bionic eye is becoming a reality; it’s not a science fiction any more. In fact, soon we might have special clinics where people go to have an eye replacement just like you can have your tooth replaced.

Like how we are already used to bionic limbs that have now advanced and able to coordinate with everything the brain’s motor function intends to do powered by artificial intelligence, the bionic eye would one day become another part of life.

With that in mind, the news is that a team of scientists has managed to fully 3D-print light receptors specifically on a hemispherical surface, what the researchers say is a giant step towards creating a functional bionic eye.

Hope for the blind


Despite being the first ever successful attempt to 3D print light receptors on a curved surface, the concept is without a doubt a wave of hope to millions of both sighted and blind people, who would have a chance to enjoy seeing the world clearly again, through the bionic eye window.

The work appears in August 28th issue of the journal Advanced Materials a platform dedicated to reviewing material science discoveries.

Co-author of the research paper, Michael McAlpine of the University of Minnesota says “Bionic eyes have always sounded like sci-fi, but looking at the current breakthrough, using multimaterial 3D printer, it’s obvious that we are one step to creating functional man-made eyes.” The author of this enthralling work also holds other patents for 3D printed semiconducting devices.

Creation of the bionic eye


McAlpine and Associate Professor Benjamin Mayhugh and their team from the UoM Department of Mechanical Engineering started with a curved glass dome to prove that it is possible to overcome the common challenge seen in printing electronics on hemispherical surfaces.

They then began with ink based silver particles where they dispersed inked which amazed them after it dried uniformly without running down the curved surface. The next step was to print photodiodes using semiconducting polymer materials which also turned very successful. The photodiodes are what convert the light into electricity.

According to McAlpine, an hour is enough to complete the whole process, and that the most interesting part of the project is the 25% efficiency witnessed in converting the light into electricity that the 3D-printed semiconductors exhibited.

This may facilitate printing of active electronics

Besides the promise of the bionic eye, McAlpine also explained that this concept may along the away facilitate printing of reliable active electronics. “Our 3D-printed semiconductors have begun to show they can outdo the efficiency of other semiconducting devices fitted in microfabrication facilities.” Which is true since it is now possible to effortlessly print a semiconducting device right onto a convex shaped surface, as proven in this work.

Top on that the team also has a history of integrating 3D printing, biology, and electronics all on a single platform. They have internationally received attention in other related inventions one being printing a “bionic ear” that took tech aficionados by surprise.

The bionic ear project opened the door to other 3D printed artificial organs required for surgical practice and experiments, scaffolds that could be of help to patients living with spinal injuries regain some mobility, and “bionic skin” from electronic fabrics that could serve as a replacement on damaged skins.

The future of the bionic eye concept

The reason why this idea may not just be another captivating research that scientists follow to see the far it can go is that McAlpine’s drive is fuelled by the fact that her mother has one eye. And in their talks, the mother always asks him when he’ll print a functional bionic eye for her.

As such, McAlpine says their next move would be to create a prototype with an increased number of light receptors that would be more efficient. They also think of making it more useful by printing the receptors on softer hemispherical material that could easily be implanted into a natural eye socket.