Posts Tagged ‘IrisVision’

VR Headset Helps People Who Are Legally Blind to See

August 9, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Catherine de Lange in the News section of the 4 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Although this virtual reality headset does not cure the physical cause of blindness, the device does let people with severe macular degeneration resume activities like reading and gardening—tasks they previously found impossible.

Macular degeneration is a common, age-related condition. It affects about 11 million people in the US and around 600,000 people in the UK. Damage to blood vessels causes the central part of the eye, the macula, to degrade. This leaves people with a blind spot in the center of their vision, and can make those with the condition legally blind. Bob Massof at Johns Hopkins University says, “You can still see with your periphery, but it is difficult or impossible to recognize people, to read, to perform everyday activities.”

This new system is called IrisVision. It uses virtual reality (VR) to make the most of peripheral vision. The user puts on a VR headset that holds a Samsung Galaxy phone. It records the person’s surrounding and displays them in real time, so that the user can magnify the image as many times as they need for their peripheral vision to become clear. Doing so also helps to reduce or eliminate their blind spot.

Tomi Perski at Iris Vision, who also has severe macular degeneration, says “Everything around the blind spot looks, say, 10 times bigger, so the relative size of the blind spot looks so much smaller that the brain can’t perceive it anymore. When he first started using the device it was an emotional experience. He says, “I sensed that I could see again and the tears started coming.”

Perski says, “If I were to look at my wife—and I’m standing 4 or 5 feet away—my blind spot is so large I couldn’t see her head at all.” But when he uses IrisVision the magnification causes the blind spot to be relatively much smaller, so that it no longer covers his wife’s whole head, just a small part of her face. He says, “If I just move that blind spot I can see her whole face and her expression and everything.”

The software automatically focuses on what the person is looking at, enabling them to go from reading a book on their lap to looking at the distance without adjusting the magnification or zoom manually. Colors are given a boost because many people with macular generation have trouble distinguishing them (the cones are largely in the macular region), and users can place the magnification bubble over anything they want to see in even more detail, for example to read small print.

In a trial, 30 people used the system for two weeks, filling out questionnaires on their ability to complete daily activities before and after the period. David Rhew at Samsung Electronics Americas says, “They can now read, they can watch TV, they can interact with people, they can do gardening, They can can stuff that for years was not even a consideration.”
According to Rhew, the vision of participants was all but restored with the headset. Whew says, “The baseline rate of vision in the individuals came in at 20/400, which is legally blind, and with the use of this technology it improved to 20/30, which is pretty close to 20/20 vision.” 20/40 is usually the standard that lets people drive without glasses. 20/30 is even better. This is not to say they can drive with this device, but rather to indicate the quality of the vision.

The results have been presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology annual meeting.

The headset is now being used in 80 ophthalmology centers around the US, and the next step is to adapt the software to work of other vision disorders.

The system costs $2500, which includes a Samsung Gear VR headset and a Galaxy S7 or S8 smartphone customized with the software.