20110328 eye vision exam 54
An eye exam is performed at the Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on April 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, Calif. - 

A device called the Argus II has been approved for commercial use in Europe and could be widely available in the United States as soon as next year. It's meant for patients who have degenerative conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa.

The device is implanted within the eye itself and it works in conjunction with a mounted camera on a set of glasses that the patient wears along with a power pack on the belt. It's not the lightest set of equipment you could possibly imagine, and at around $115,000, it's far from affordable for a lot of people. But the important development here is that the technology is real and it's becoming available. The equipment will eventually become less cumbersome and the price will drop.

We talk with Brian Mech of Second Sight Medical Products, which developed the Argus II. He describes how it all works, including the antennae used on both the glasses and the implanted device. He said patients are able to see about 60 pixels of light, which isn't much compared to the average person but a huge difference for the patients involved.

We also talk to Dr. Gislin Dagnelie of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The school has been involved with clinical trials in the U.S., and Dr. Dagnelie has worked with five of the patients. He says it may not restore full vision but in terms of mobility and navigating through the world it's a remarkable step forward.

Also in this program, speaking of remarkable steps forward, Harvard scientists have invented a wand that puts out fires using blasts of electricity. Which is cool.

Follow John Moe at @johnmoe