The goals of this diversity career development award are to provide training to Michael Stahl, BS, MS (a legally blind biomedical engineer) while he obtains a PhD in bioengineering and completes a thesis combining image processing and low vision research. The goal of the proposed thesis research is to determine if two innovations to electronic travel aids (ETAs), which will be developed and studied during the proposed project, can help improve mobility performance for people with low vision. The career development plan spans two institutions: Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard Medical School (Schepens) and Northeastern University (NEU). The applicant will benefit from this duel-institution opportunity by taking formal courses at NEU, training in the conduct of low vision research at Schepens, and instruction from mentors at both. Vision loss is linked to an increase in falls and injury- especially in the elderly population. Decrease in mobility performance due to vision loss restricts a person's travel and therefor limits their professional and personal pursuits. Mobility or people with impaired vision is both a public health concern and an important quality of life issue. Perhaps the most serious mobility challenge is an inability to detect low contrast steps and tripping hazards. ETAs based on laser, sonar, image processing and stereoscopy have been proposed to increase independence and safety for the VI population, but none of these have gained wide acceptance. Reasons of cost, reliability, ease of use, practicality, and cosmetics all appear to contribute to use or disuse of an ETA. Structured light is now being used for many commercial applications to obtain 3D information about a scene. The proposed study will assess its ability to detect low contrast tripping hazards that are missed by other ETAs and t will investigate a form of augmented reality that will highlight and enhance the location and nature of tripping hazards for VI who rely on functional residual vision for mobility.
The aims of the proposed research project are 1) to test whether invisible structured light can accurately detect steps, curbs, and other tripping hazards, 2) to determine if augmented reality using structured light is an effective agent for delivering hazard location information for people with impaired vision, and 3) to determine if 1 &2 combine to improve mobility performance. Sixteen VI subjects will be recruited to use the developed system and the mobility performance benefits of both invisible structured light and augmented reality will be quantified.
Impaired vision, especially in the elderly, has been shown to be a strong risk factor for falls that lead to injury. Steps, curbs, and tripping hazards are a serious and common hazard contributing to this continued public health concern but electronic solutions have thus far struggled with this category of hazard. A travel aid based on invisible structured light with augmented reality has the potential to aid this growing high-risk population by being more reliable, easier to use, and more cosmetically acceptable than current travel aids.