The Bionic Eye, once a sci-fi pipe dream, finally entered reality in the early 2000s. Through the medical company Second Sight, visually deficient people could finally see again with newfound visual technology.
However, after more than fifteen years, Second Sight is abandoning its revolutionary Argus implants. But what does that mean for those who have already been implanted? And what will they do now?
Argus Bionic Eye users left blind
Reported by Spectrum, over 350 blind people are implanted with Second Sight Bionic Eye implants. Implanted with the promise of long-term support and the ability to upgrade in the future, these people put all their hopes into Second Sight,
However, while the technology did successfully bring back their vision, the patients didn't expect their hopes to be squashed. After a tough 2020, Second Sight crumbled, laying off workers and leaving customers blind — metaphorically and literally.
One user, Barbara Campbell, had her Argus Eye implant power down during a walk to the New York subway. Her implant no longer works. With repair attempts futile and surgery too risky, the implant is still connected to her left eye.
Terry Byland, the only dual-implant Argus user, still has working implants. Byland was once the biggest face of Second Sight, the model patient used as marketing to showcase the tech. However, Byland has been left in the dark just as much as everyone else. If a complication artists, he will be left blind again without any support from the company he helped succeed.
“As long as nothing goes wrong, I’m fine,” Byland told Spectrum. “But if something does go wrong with it, well, I’m screwed. Because there’s no way of getting it fixed.”
Searching for parts
As Argus implants start to fail or break, users are struggling to bring back their artificial vision. One user, Jeroen Perk, accidentally broke the video processing unit for his Argus II. Without the VPU, the bionic eye's signal is useless.
This caused Peck to search hard for parts to repair the bionic eye. Miraculously, he could. An ex-Argus user who got the implant removed in 2020 gave their VPU to Peck, restoring his vision. But that might not always be possible.
Not that many people have access to Argus implants. As time goes on, the remaining implants will fail, and there aren't enough parts to go around. Additionally, unused implants can and will cause medical issues for some users, and Second Sight will not be around to help.
As dystopian as it comes
Second Sight’s abandonment of its customer base is a horrid reality. A single Argus II implant costs as much as $150,000 per eye, but that massive cost hasn’t guaranteed the lifelong support customers thought they'd be getting.
Thankfully, there are other forms of bionic eyes out there/ in the works, but existing customers of Second Sight will not get free upgrades to other companies. Instead, they can pay to change implants and possibly face this abandonment again, or live with defunct technology resting in their bodies.