A PhD student has positive research results in sight in a joint Virtual Reality (VR) project being undertaken by the University of Wolverhampton and Beacon Centre.
The research project is seeing positive results in terms of participants’ visual perception especially in terms of reading text and seeing the depth of colour.
PhD Computer Science student, Kurtis Weir, is investigating the use of Virtual Reality to help assist people with severe sight disabilities as part of a £75,000 three year research studentship jointly funded by the University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering and the Beacon Centre, a registered charity that is dedicated to helping people with sight loss live a fuller, more independent life.
The research project, which runs until May 2020, aims to identify the features and characteristics of VR devices that enable improved visual acuity, the vision conditions where improvement is most profound and how a VR device can be modified to enhance the benefits.
Eighteen participants with diverse eye conditions have been involved in testing for letter detection, contrast clarity and word detection with some experiencing significant improvements.
Further testing for depth of perception, peripheral vision, realistic imagery and video simulation of realistic environments is also being explored as the research project develops. The research is also looking at image detection for text, with the potential of combining this software into VR, something not currently available.
Lisa Cowley, Chief Executive Officer of Beacon Centre, said: “About three years ago, Beacon experimented with a VR headset and found that some individuals, particularly with macular degeneration, experienced improvements in their visual perception and quality of experience in viewing films, for example.
“There is potential for this research study to have a big impact on people’s lives in terms of VR providing an aid to orientation in a new environment or for leisure in viewing digital media. We are so excited about the initial results that we have jointly filed UK and international patents for the invention of a potential VR product which could really improve people’s lives.”
Kurtis Weir, PhD student - Postgraduate Research in Computer Science, said: “We’re looking at taking new technologies that haven’t been tested before or applied to people with different health problems. My focus has been to look at whether people can read text better using VR and if people can see a significant increase using this method, what other things can we do to help them in their everyday lives.”
Matthew Harrison, Research Volunteer and Technology Innovations Manager at the Beacon Centre, said: “I was diagnosed with late onset Stargardt Disease which has resulted in macular degeneration. This research is looking at whether I could see colours and text better using VR technology, testing my depth perception and my ability to read. I haven’t read anything paper based for about 7 or 8 years so this could help me read quicker and more accurately. It’s using mainstream technology that we can maybe harness to help people with disabilities.
“We’re introducing technology to a whole group of people who have never experienced VR and it’s opening up a whole new world of vision to them and they’ve been so excited, and quite moved at times, by what they’ve seen using the headsets.”
Kurtis is being mentored by former University of Wolverhampton academic now currently working at Cardiff University, Dr Fernando Loizides, as well as the Head of the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Professor Amar Aggoun and Dr Vinita Nahar, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science.
The research project is being managed by Andrew Pollard, Industrial Professor in the Faculty of Science & Engineering at the University of Wolverhampton and a specialist in the development and commercialisation of new products.