Today Show viewers might have been taken aback this morning when Rob Spence yanked off his right eye patch and revealed a bright red LED prosthetic eye.
“Accessor-eyes. Get it?” the colorful Spence said in a phone interview following the segment. “My red LED eye isn’t functional. It just to be cool, immature and have fun not trying to look like everyone else,” he says.
A Toronto filmmaker, Spence is the co-creator of “The EyeBorg Project” (not to be confused with Eyeborgs, the movie) in which he and Kosta Grammatis are creating a bionic eye with a tiny camera that can be inserted into the eye socket. One could not visibly tell that the camera is there.
“I would use this camera the same way I would use any other camera. I have to be careful with it ethically and am not interested in life casting myself going to the bathroom or having sex. I could event cast the All Night Arts Festival in London or get in a Lamborghini and event cast that. Or I could do undercover journalism. There’s multiple ways for using secret cameras,” Spence says.
At present, they have a working protoype whose two halves are held together by wax with a camera made by Omnivision and a radio transmitter.
“We want it to have an hour to an hour and a half of runtime and one quarter VGA [display] quality,” says Grammatis. “I’m waiting for Rob to order parts. [It should be finished] in a couple of week’s depending on Rob’s attention span.”
Spence, whose web site describes his team of four as “moderately to severely crazy,” admits he’s angling for a TV documentary or film gig, but there are other implications.
“I am a film maker. That’s my passion, but I did not make it so I could I get a deal. This is very personal to improve myself as human being to take a loss and turn it into a gain.” At age 13, Spence says he lost his right eye when a shotgun he trained on a pile of cow dung at his grandfather’s in Ireland kicked back. “I did not have the stock on my shoulder. I wasn’t holding it right.”
Could output from that camera travel to the optic nerve and essentially perform the duties of a healthy eye?
“I would have a very strange field of view seeing light and some shapes. You get 60 pixels at best, but who knows 10 or 20 years from now?” says Spence.
So for now, EyeBorg’s camera will talk to other conventional electronics such as computers, but other more complex projects are riding the wave of publicity Spence is getting. “Projects such as the Boston Retinal Implant Project say we love what you guys are doing because people are starting to talk about it and put it in the spotlight,” claims Grammatis.
Prosthetic retinas or ‘bionic eyes’ as they are called employ tiny implanted cameras that feed transmitted images to the brain via sensors attached to nerves. Such devices have made strides in the past few years, but have a long way to go before approaching the sight quality of a natural eye.
No one had more fun with the loss of an eye than EyeBorg’s Spence. While he will never have a healthy right eye again, he thinks the option of a bionic or natural eye will eventually be available to others.
“I’m not sure I would have the inclination to remove a healthy eye, but that day is coming. Unlike you that has a healthy eye and that’s it, I can have version 1, 2 and so forth.”