City, University of London researchers conducted a study using head-mounted displays (HMDs) to simulate day-to-day challenges faced by patients with glaucoma, which is an umbrella term for a group of degenerative eye diseases that affects the optic nerve of the eye and is the leading cause of irreversible blindness.
According to the researchers, 22 volunteers without glaucoma participating in the study wore HMDs while performing various tasks in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) environments. During the VR tasks, participants were placed in a simulation of a “cluttered” house and were instructed to search for a mobile phone. During the AR tasks, participants navigated a real-life human-sized “mouse maze” that was viewed through cameras in front of the HMDs.
HMD sensors tracked the position of participants' eyes as they completed the tasks. The software, called OpenVisSim, generated a blurred-out area of vision, creating a scotoma that obstructed either the top or bottom of the participants' visual field. The scotoma was generated using medical data from real glaucoma patients. Control participants did not experience obscured vision.
Notably, participants with simulated impairment performed tasks slower and made more head and eye movements. Likewise, tasks were more difficult when vision loss obstructed the bottom part of the visual field. Yet, some participants were able to cope better than others.
OpenVisSim was shared online and is free for use. It is compatible with most commercially available HMDs and smartphones. The team said that the software can be used to simulate a range of eye diseases.
Potential applications for simulated glaucoma using HMDs include helping policymakers better assess the impact of visual impairment on patients and to help architects design accessible buildings.
A paper on this technology was published in npj Digital Medicine.