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Video: Augmented and virtual reality could help better assess visual impairments

12 March 2020

A new study from the Crabb Lab at City University of London has found that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can be used to simulate the challenges faced by people with glaucoma.

Glaucoma, which is the leading cause of blindness worldwide, is an umbrella term for a group of degenerative eye diseases that affect the optic nerve in the eye.

The study suggests potential applications of the technology could help policymakers better assess the impact of impairments on patients and help architects to design more accessible buildings.

In the study, 22 volunteers who did not have glaucoma wore a head-mounted display (HMD) while performing tasks in either VR or AR. In the VR task, the volunteers used a simulation of a typical cluttered house and users moved their eyes and head to look around it in order to find a mobile phone hidden somewhere in the house.

In the AR task, the volunteers navigated a human-sized mouse maze, which was viewed through cameras in front of the HMDs. Sensors tracked the position of each eye, allowing the software to generate a blurred area of vision, known as “scotoma,” which obstructed the same portion of the visual field for each participant.

The scotoma was created using medical data from real glaucoma patients and restricted vision in the upper part of the volunteer's visual field or in the lower part.

In both tests, the volunteers were slower to perform the tasks that were simulated and also made more head and eye movements, like real glaucoma patients. The volunteers also found the tasks difficult when the vision loss obstructed the bottom part of their visual field, and researchers found that some people were better able to cope than others with an identical impairment.

“While it’s impossible to recreate exactly what it’s like to have glaucoma, our findings suggest that digital simulators can at least allow people to experience some of the challenges that people with glaucoma face every day,” said Peter Jones, professor at the Crabb Lab at City University of London. “We are now working with architects to explore whether sight-loss simulators can be used to design more accessible buildings and transport systems.”

The full research can be found in the journal Digital Medicine.

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