THESE DAYS, A SELF-DESCRIBED SURFER IS MORE LIKELY to bask in radiation from a computer screen than from the sun. But not people with extremely bad eyesight. Often, they can make out words only by squinting hard at each successive, enlarged letter. Tackling the Internet is frustrating, at best.
That's why Elizabeth Goldring, an almost blind poet and director of exhibits at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, was elated to see the word "sun"--the first total word she had been able to read in years. It was projected onto her retina by a scanning laser ophthalmoscope, or SLO. Essentially a miniature projection-TV system, the SLO is a $100,000 research tool for probing inside the eye. But to Goldring, it promised a gateway to the Internet, if it could be hooked up to her computer.
Robert H. Webb, the scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston who invented the SLO a decade ago, had his doubts. But using the SLO, Goldring saw words and images transmitted over the Internet into a computer. Most visually impaired people, Webb says, will have to wait for goggle-size SLOs with lenses made from semiconductor lasers. The technology exists, he says, but not a market. "If the video-game people would just grab this," he adds, "it would take off like a rocket."