Personalizing Reality

How data-driven VR/AR is driving new insight into visual impairments

By Pete Jones

June 2018

At a Glance

  • How can eye-disease affect our sight?
  • Current depictions of sight loss in the media can be unrealistic
  • Using a bottom-up approach, we’ve developed a VR/AR platform to quantitatively simulate visual impairments, based on clinical data  
  • Here, I highlight the technology and discuss its potential applications.

Most people have a pretty good idea of what short- or long-sightedness looks like. Many of us experience it on a daily basis, while those with perfect vision can simulate it simply by wearing glasses of the wrong prescription. There is a key gap in public understanding, however, when it comes to posterior eye diseases such as glaucoma and AMD. In those cases, light is focused correctly on the retina, but is not being encoded properly by the brain. It is hard to imagine what effect that has on our vision, and to make matters worse, the depictions you see if you search online are often wildly inaccurate. Indeed, the whole notion of drawing what a specific disease looks like is questionable, given that two patients with the same diagnosis often report very different experiences. How then can we understand what it is like to have a visual impairment? Supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, and by donations from Moorfields Eye Charity, we’ve been developing a new platform to simulate how others see using virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR).