With head-mounted augmented reality devices like the new HoloLens coming to market, vision researchers are looking for new applications of this technology for the visually impaired.

A small study published in September’s Optometry and Vision Science describes the potential such equipment could offer the low vision community, suggesting it could substantially improve accuracy and confidence in object recognition. Four low vision patients and 48 subjects with simulated low vision took part.

HoloLens uses a camera array and software that enhances edges to indicate object boundaries. The goal, proponents say, is to simplify complex visual patterns when visual information is limited. In other words, it films what’s in front of it and translates the images into visual information that the low vision patient can use to navigate their world.

Researchers evaluated the four low vision participants during three types of tasks: person localization, pose recognition and object recognition. They then evaluated 48 simulated low vision participants with additional tasks such as gesture recognition and mobility. In both cases, HoloLens substantially improved the  object recognition; person localization and pose recognition skills were largely unchanged from baseline. 

“The results suggest areas in which current augmented reality systems may be used to improve functional vision and where they fall short,” the authors state.

“Overall, our findings support previous work suggesting that simplifying visual scenes can be helpful for people with severely impaired vision and show that this approach can be implemented in a see-through head-mounted display.”

Kinateder MGualtieri J, Dunn M, et al. Using an augmented reality device as a distance-based vision aid—promise and limitations. Opt Vis Sci. 2018;95(9):727-37.