Scientists Are Building a 3-D Printed Eyeball That Can Record Your Vision

Scientists Are Building a 3-D Printed Eyeball That Can Record Your Vision
Source: Screenshot from "Black Mirror"
Source: Screenshot from "Black Mirror"

If you could swap the eyes you were born with for 3-D printed upgrades, would you? What if they had 15/10 vision, photo filters and the ability to record what you see?

A research and design group in Italy is trying to bring this sci-fi concept to life. They've undergone a 12-year project to upgrade our vision with features like Wi-Fi and self-repairing technology, propelling the human body years into the future.

Source: Black Mirror/BBC

MHOX specializes in biotechnology, an emerging field of science that uses tech to upgrade organic material. The company just unveiled its latest project: EYE, short for Enhance Your Eye. The group is working on three different models of 3-D printed eyes, called "Heal," "Enhance" and "Advance." 

The three eye models
Source: MHOX

The first eye, Heal, is an expected evolution in the medical world — repairing diseased or traumatized eyes.

The other two introduce features that sound more like science fiction. Enhance offers 15/10 vision — that means we could see objects at 15 feet that healthy eyes can see at 10 — but also the option to change the filter of the eye. It'd be like adding a photo filter in Instagram, but you'd do it by taking a pill.

Advanced, just like the name implies, includes hyper-powerful vision and optional filtering. With an added Wi-Fi "gland," this printed eyeball can also record and upload what it sees.

The EYE, with all possible parts
Source: MHOX

The implications are profound. The ability to record vision would grant users first-hand video to use as evidence in court cases. It could create an entire industry of film from the most intimate point of view possible.

It's science fiction come to life. An infamous 2011 episode of the BBC show Black Mirror examined what daily life would be like if everything we saw could be played back before our eyes or displayed like a projector on a screen for others to see. In the episode (we won't spoil it), the technology leads to darker, more depressing results. 

Black Mirror

The transplant process is innovative. In order to install the EYEs, MHOX built a piece of hardware called the Deck, which connects the eye to the brain permanently. It's a translator between the organic muscle fibers and the printed eye.

"We envision that the link between the deck and the EYE will be based on attractive forces between the tissues," Filippo Nassetti, MHOX partner and lead designer, told Dezeen. "To replace the EYE the user only has to put it in position inside the skull, and the tissues of the Deck and the EYE connect automatically."

From there, the EYEs can be swapped with the speed of popping a gum ball in your mouth. "Installing" one of the MHOX models, though, means removing the existing eye for replacement. 

EYEs won't be available until 2027, according to the website.

What comes next? Nassetti brought up the possibility of printing entire human bodies — but told Dezeen not to expect one anytime soon. That's "still a far-reach vision," he said. But "we believe that the 3-D bioprinting of functional parts and replacements is a contemporary issue that designers have to start addressing."

Already, scientists have been hard at work replicating the human body with other 3-D printed parts — from ears to skin to calcium phosphate implants that support bone growth. Faith Lennox, a 7-year-old in California, received a 3-D printed replacement for her amputated arm that cost just $50 — about $40,000 less than a regular prosthetic.

Faith Lennox tries out her new 3-D printed arm.
Source: Damian Dovarganes/AP

Until this point, eye-replacement technology was something that could only be dreamed up in a television writers' room. EYE could be a massive step forward in the race to print and commercialize advanced, lab-grown body parts. And this is only the beginning.

h/t Dezeen