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This Day in Science Fiction History: 1 July

Historical Entry—Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Photograph of Ray Flynn (80-year-old man with white hair, glasses, wearing a pale blue polo and black zip-up coat) with the Argus II implant and the receiving computer
Photograph of Ray Flynn with the Argus II implant and computer (©2015 The Guardian)

On March 7, 1973, television watchers heard these words for the first time: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man … Better…stronger…faster.” The Six-Million Dollar Man introduced the viewers to something most were completely uninformed of. Until then, most people hadn’t heard the word bionic, let alone know what it meant.


Bionic was a created word, combining the words biology and electronics. Its first use is in a series of research papers Dr. John Keto produced for the United States Air Force in 1961. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as “having normal biological capability or performance enhanced by or as if by electronic or electromechanical devices”. While now a common trope in science fiction, bionics are still a fledgling technology.


Ray Flynn, an 80-year-old British pensioner, became the first person with some natural sight to receive a bionic eye. The implant used was the Argus II, currently the only FDA approved bionic sight system. Ray was diagnosed with advanced dry age related macular degeneration (AMD).

The Argus II had been implanted in nearly 130 patients world-wide, but all of them had complete retinal blindness. While he was legally blind, Ray still had peripheral vision in his eyes. The operation was a success, restoring the central area of Ray’s vision back to him.

The system works as a combination of surgically implanted electrodes and external items (receiver, video camera, and small computer). Electrodes are implanted on the surface of the retina. The camera wirelessly transmits an electrical signal to the electrodes. These in turn stimulate the remaining retinal cells which the brain interprets as light. While not true sight, the system does allow the patient some visual functions.


Testing proved Ray was able to “see” even with his eyes closed, showing that his brain was capable of understanding both signals independently. While he did not receive the super magnification Steve Austin did, nor did he get the amazing “ditt-ditt-ditt” sound when he moved, Ray Flynn proved bionic eye systems continue to improve.


Argus II implanted in a person with natural sight

Historical Event



This Day in Science Fiction History examines notable events, real and fictional, concerning fantasy and science fiction in various media.


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