Editorial: Eye-popping technologies

I'm not squeamish about many things, but eyes come top of the list. I have no idea why that should be, but if you feel the same as I do then don't go to YouTube, don't search for 'eyeborg', don't select the video about Rob Spence by Associated Press and don't press play.

This one-eyed man, the subject of our feature on p26, has fitted a camera in his empty eye socket. An engineer friend or two connected the bits together to make this work in what has to be the weirdest piece of garage engineering ever. They are still trying to solve some problems - like how to power it so Spence's face can film non-stop indefinitely. To me, the question isn't just how they did it, but why on earth they did it. There is a point to it all but it's not immediately obvious and you'll have to read the article to understand it.

More obvious are the benefits of the medical trials we report on p18, where Philip Hunter follows the latest in retinal implants. Although the technology can't help in all cases of blindness, it can help many people who haven't been completely blind from birth and so have the necessary 'brain circuits' ready to receive the images. Implants can already help some people to see shapes again and optimists reckon that one day the science and technology could even help them to read again.

Our feature on p22 looks at research into future uses for the humble contact lens that go way beyond correcting eyesight. Doctors can diagnose a surprising amount from an eye examination, so now researchers are working on ways to build that capability into those tricky little lenses that many people already dab onto their eyeballs every day. (Urgh! There's the squeamishness again.) One possible function would be spots on the surface of the lenses that would change colour to warn of particular disease symptoms. It seems like a logical step: engineers have already put displays into windscreens, and spectacles, so why should the contact lense not follow suit?

Thankfully for those of us with ommetaphobia, by p32 we get away from eyes themselves and turn to the much more palatable subject of 3D entertainment. Films seem to be leading the way, with a new 3D film released every month and higher release rates scheduled for the next year. The games industry too is going 3D and even TV is starting down the road. The movie 'Space Station 3D' converted me: the stunning pictures of Earth from space justified all that effort of lugging the huge 3D Imax camera to the international space station. Keri Allan is more analytical about why 3D could be here to stay on p32.

There's more in this vision special: Luke Collins looks at digital camera technology beyond the quest to add yet more millions of pixels (p34); 3D vision is automating quality control on manufacturing lines for everything from pizza bases to PCBs (p40); and vision is becoming the norm in production robots (p60). Finally, to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Louis Braille, we recount the fascinating story of how you can't keep a good man or his new technology down on p84.

A few years ago, my son had an operation to remove a splinter from his eye. In the best NHS policy of keeping the parent informed, the surgeon started to talk me through the operation - in detail. When I explained that I didn't really want all the details because I was bit squeamish about eyes he said he understood: "Ah yes," he said, "that's quite common. Eyes: you either love 'em or hate 'em."

After a moment's thought he grinned and added: "I love 'em."

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