Gianluca Lazzi, chair of electrical and computer engineering, is part of a team recognized by R&D Magazine for developing the Artificial Retina, one of the top 100 technology innovations of 2009. At the Awards Banquet in November 2009, the team received the “Editor’s Choice Award” as the top innovation among the 100.

The device is a retinal prosthesis for treating age-related macular degeneration and inherited retinal disorders such as retinitis pigmentosa.

“The device uses application-specific integrated circuits to transform digital images from a camera into electrical signals in the eye that the brain uses to create a visual image,” according to the R & D web site. “The system features a video camera and transmitter mounted in sunglasses, a visual processing unit, and a battery pack to power the device that is worn on the belt. The retinal implant receives a signal via wireless transmission, encodes it into specific patterns of stimulation pulses that are conducted through a cable to the electrode array that stimulates the retina. The brain perceives the patterns of light spots corresponding to the stimulated electrodes. In clinical trials, patients with vision loss were able to identify objects, increase mobility and detect movement.”

The National Eye Institute says the Artificial Retina has motivated the “development of remote sensing platforms, increasing power transmission by radio frequency link, the creation of electronic-tissue interface devices, new lithographic and etching techniques to pattern films on polymers, stacking techniques needed to layer metals and polymers on top of each other to reduce the size of the device, technologies to prevent short-circuiting of electrodes and miniaturization all prove the value of the investments made by the DOE.”

Lazzi helped create the Artificial Retina while at North Carolina State University. Developers of the project include five national labs, four universities and private industry.

The Artificial Retina was recently featured on CNN.