Bionic Eye

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CMU researcher Shawn Kelly

Restoring vision to a blind person is the ultimate gift — one that Shawn Kelly has been working on for years.

To take his research to the next level, Kelly has recently joined Carnegie Mellon University as a research faculty member in CMU's Institute for Complex Engineered Systems (ICES).

CMU's research environment and Pittsburgh's many resources for startups make it an ideal move as Kelly works to get his Bionic Eye Technologies company off the ground.

"CMU offers a cooperative research environment where I can continue my work on a retinal prosthesis while using the same electronics technology in collaboration with other researchers in other fields of study," Kelly said.

"I have already begun to speak with professors at CMU about applying my neural stimulation circuits or wireless power circuits to other devices."

Kelly pointed out the abundant resources available in Pittsburgh for someone looking to start a medical device company like the one he has in mind.

"Pittsburgh offers a powerful network of research hospitals and doctors, and a strong network of universities producing talented graduates," he said.

"The availability of graduates with strong engineering backgrounds is key. Combined with affordable office space, these features make Pittsburgh an excellent place to start Bionic Eye Technologies."

Determined to restore useful vision to people who have gone blind later in life, Kelly has devoted his life's work to the challenge.

"The bionic eye is interesting because it is one of the hardest problems I can imagine working on," he said.

"We're trying to shrink a pacemaker enough to attach it to the side of the eyeball, then scale up the number of stimulating channels by a factor of 100.  The combination of the safety and hermetic packaging requirements and restrictions on size and power make it an incredibly challenging design."

Kelly noted that his bionic eye won't restore natural vision, but the hope is that it will allow people to navigate as well as identify objects and people's faces. 

"The first two functions can help restore some level of independence to a blind person's life, but the third one can help better connect them to their friends and family, which is at least as important."

Since 2004, CMU has doubled the number of start-up companies created by its faculty and students and now stands as one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial institutions in the United States.

CMU has introduced "Greenlighting Startups," an initiative aimed at accelerating the university's already impressive record of turning campus innovations into sustainable new businesses.

Related Links: Greenlighting Startups | ICES

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