Science News

Retinitis pigmentosa: augmented reality can help

Augmented reality could be used to facilitate the lives of people with sight problems. The peculiar characteristics of this new technology, in fact, can be used to improve mobility and to ensure that people with sight problems can navigate better in their environment.

This is what was stated by a group of researchers from the University of Southern California School of Medicine after analyzing various patients with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that can cause significant vision problems. The results they obtained during the first experiments they performed with glasses adapted for augmented reality saw an improvement in the mobility of patients with this disease by 50%.

As Mark Humayun and Charlotte Ginsburg, two of the researchers who conducted the study, specify, this is a different approach than other attempts to exploit technologies such as augmented reality: the latter, in this case, is used to improve, not for replace, the natural senses. For example, glasses adapted to augmented reality can project different bright colors on the patient’s retina, colors that can correspond to obstacles of various kinds.

The same glasses can perform a complete rendering of the 3D structure of a room practically in real-time. The same rendering is translated into a semi-transparent colored visual overlay that highlights the edges and lines of potential obstacles with bright colors. The same technology, as reported in the press release, can already work on commercially available augmented reality devices.

During the experiments, patients with retinitis pigmentosa wore glasses for augmented reality, equipped with the aforementioned software, while they traveled a real path with obstacles. Analyzing the number of times the patients clashed with obstacles and the time taken to complete the pathway, the researchers noted that the patients who benefited from augmented reality enjoyed some improvement.

In particular, they had a 50% lower number of collisions against obstacles, a fairly clear improvement.

“Through the use of RA, we aim to improve the quality of life for visually impaired patients by increasing their confidence in performing basic tasks, ultimately enabling them to live a more independent life,” says Anastasios N. Angelopoulos, one of the researchers who participated in the study.