In the 1970’s American television series, “The Six Million Dollar Man,” astronaut Steve Austin is injured in a crash, and his legs, right arm and left eye are replaced with bionic implants that increase his strength, speed and vision. After receiving the implants, he can run approximately 60 mph, and his eye has a 20:1 zoom lens, plus infrared capabilities.
While having an operation to receive super human capabilities seems inconceivable, it is not as far from reality as it once was. Take eyesight for example. Since 1991, when LASIK was introduced, treatments and technology have advanced significantly.
Lasers & Sci-Fi
LASIK uses a laser that emits pulses of light in one quadrillionth of a second (also called femtoseconds) to ensure precision. In other words, the laser used during today’s vision correction procedures is quite a bit more advanced than lasers represented in an old science fiction movie.
Before the procedure, the doctor uses a computer to create a three-dimensional replication of the patient’s eye to provide a picture of the irregularities that need to be reshaped. During the procedure, the lasers then make necessary adjustments with the aid of the three-dimensional image.
Leading edge LASIK technology is based off the same military technology used in missile tracking. Eye function is analyzed, and the data is translated into a customized laser treatment. The eye tracker supplies accurate laser delivery to ensure a safe procedure, because it is not necessary for patients to stare at one focal point the entire time.
Not Bionic, But Still Innovative
One of the newest advancements is called custom or Wavefront LASIK, and it’s based on the same technology used in the Hubble Space Telescope. It uses the three-dimensional process mentioned above to perform highly individualized laser correction via a precise analysis of vision errors that occur as light rays travel through the eye.
Custom software reduces the possibility of a human data entry error as it maps out the path needed to correct the patient’s individual vision. This map of the cornea is as unique to an eye as a fingerprint is to a finger. Surgeons then use the “fingerprint” measurements to perform a custom LASIK procedure.
Before Wavefront technology, only lower-order vision errors such as myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism could be diagnosed and treated. With Wavefront technology, however, surgeons can also treat higher-order irregularities such as glare, halos and night vision difficulties. This is a key reason why Wavefront technology is so revolutionary — it has the potential to not only improve how much you can see, but also can improve the quality of how well you see.
While we may be a long way from procuring eyeballs that zoom and provide infrared vision like the Six Million Dollar Man’s, the advancements in LASIK are impressive and proof that the idea of bionic eyes might not forever be out of the realm of possibility.