We mostly associate Virtual reality and augmented reality with gaming, with some choosing to watch videos using them. Not many have associated the two technologies with the ability to help individuals with sight problems. In several instance VR and AR are trying to better connect those with seeing problems to the everyday world. The technologies are also helping people to reclaim some of the vision they might have lost.
The World Health Organization estimates that about 246 million people have blurry vision, blind spot and tunnel vision that cannot be corrected. WHO also estimates that 90% of these people tend to have lower incomes. Frank Werblin, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California is working on a low cost vision aid that targets low vision community.
About two and a half year ago, Werblin discovered that he could use virtual reality technology to create a vision aid. He has designed an app, dubbed as IrisVision that uses Samsung Gear VR headset. It magnifies whatever the wearer is looking at while also providing a wide field of view. It is also responsive to the wearer’s head. This app is meant to help user better see the world including, reading on a computer.
Werblin is not the only one to use virtual-reality hardware. James Blaha, with amblyopia or lazy eye is in the process of researching the condition and come with a version of Oculus Rift that helps improve the condition. Blaha is currently the CEO of Vivid Vision, a company focused on solution for the condition. He has already discovered that he could strengthen his weaker eye using virtual reality.
Lazy eye usually occurs when one eye is far less effective than the other. The brain tries to suppress the week eye, leading to problems with depth perception, making it hard to cross a busy street among other things. Normally if the condition is not fixed by the age of 8, it becomes impossible to fix later. Blaha is proving this idea wrong by increasing the brightness in the goggles for the weaker eye. He is essentially forcing the brain to stop suppressing the eye. For the first time, in his life he can see 3D. These days he has 90% normal depth perception.
VA-ST is a startup making application for those with vision problems. It has designed a SmartSpec headset for those who are legally blind or partially sighted. SmartSpec boost the visibility of object and faces by accentuating those object. It even works in darkness, helping users to navigate around furniture. SmartSpec’s algorithms look for items like faces including facial expression and text in real time.
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