Aug. 15, 2000 A team of researchers at the University of Alberta is making artificial eyes move, giving patients more confidence after radical facial surgery. A person with one eye missing may suffer psychologically and physically because of the loss. But the U of A team is trying to change that.
"The whole idea is to put some movements into eyes which are used as static prosthesis," said Dr. Gary Faulkner, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. "If someone has cancer and had to have parts removed because of a tumour, there is nothing--no nerves, nothing--left. So we decided to use the good eye as a signal to drive the artificial one."
Researchers from mechanical and electrical engineering and rehabilitation medicine have joined forces to create a false eye that rotates in synchronicity with its "good partner," said Faulkner. He collaborated with Dr. Max Meng in electrical engineering, Jason Gu, a PhD candidate studying under Meng and Dr. Albert Cook, the dean of rehabilitation medicine.
The implant would serve patients with malignant facial tumours who have portions of the face, including an entire eye socket, removed. The team used the world's tiniest electrical motor--which is normally used on model airplanes-to develop an autonomous motor system. Using the good eye as a monitor and infrared detectors built into a pair of glasses, the team worked on a signal control to track movement-vertically and horizontally-by recording and storing the movement as sensed data space. The eye movement signal is then obtained through the sensor.
"The person would have to wear glasses and the little motor would be on the glasses," said Gu. "But it would be unobtrusive so people couldn't really notice the motor, or the whole idea would be senseless."
Researchers are now working on replacing the motor with alternative methods. But improving the lives of self-conscious patients who have become experts at avoiding eye contact for fear others will notice the static eye, would be rewarding, said Gu. The study is published in the current issue of Robotics and Autonomous Systems.
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