Once upon a time, there were some unique Australian sheep with exceptionally sharp eyesight. For three months last year, the small group had bionic, artificial eyes surgically implanted behind their retinas. These sheep were part of a medical experiment that aims to restore sight to persons suffering from certain types of blindness.

The purpose of the sheep test was to see if the device in question, the Phoenix 99, caused any physical reactions in the animals; the bionic eye was said to be well tolerated by the animals. As a result, an application has been submitted to begin human patient testing. A team of researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales is working on the project. The Phoenix 99 operates by stimulating a user’s retina and is wirelessly linked to a small camera attached to a pair of spectacles. The retina is a layer of light-sensitive cells in the back of the eye that turns light into electrical signals, which are then transferred to the brain via the optic nerve and processed into what we see.

According to the World Health Organization, at least 2.2 billion individuals worldwide have some sort of vision impairment, ranging from mild to severe blindness. The WHO claims that the cost of lost productivity to the world economy is more than $25 billion (£19 billion) per year. The usage of bionic eye systems to treat blindness is still in its early stages, but with rapid technical advancements, one analysis estimates that the business will be worth $426 million by 2028.