These tiny robots could save your eyesight

Credit: ETH Zurich

When the supply of blood and oxygen to your eyes dips below normal, you have a good chance of going blind — permanently. What's more frightening is that you can go blind in a matter of hours and doctors have no method of detecting how much oxygen is getting to your eyes, until now.

A tiny robot, or "mocrorobot" developed by researchers at ETH Zurich is small enough and sensitive enough to act as an early warning system for your eye's oxygen levels. The process by which it does this, however, sounds a lot more like a parody of Innerspace than real world science. At least when you hear Bradley Nelson, ETH professor and head of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, talk about it:

"I picture it like the robots that we use these days to chart the ocean floor. With our microrobot we can chart the oxygen levels of the inner eye liquid — the vitreous — along the retina."

So they want to inject a tiny robot into your eye, let it paddle around in the waters that exist there, and wait for it to report back. If that sounds a little crazy, then maybe you should sit down for this next bit. ETH Zurich already has a line of mocrorobots that can perform tiny surgeries and deliver medications within your eye. This isn't their first intra-ocular rodeo, if you will.

The way the new microrobot works is by fluorescence. If your eyes have too little oxygen, the robot begins to glow. The closer to the correct level you get, the shorter the bursts of light are. When a patient comes in, who thinks they might be losing their sight, their eye could be injected with the robot. Doctors would then steer the tiny automaton into position via the use of magnetic fields and then — in a move straight out of sci-fi — peer into your eye through your retina to see if they can catch a glimpse of a gently pulsing, fluorescent glow. Then they can dial in the proper oxygen levels for your eye and save your sight.

Not scary at all, right?

ETH Zurich, via

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook