Friday, January 6, 2012

Simulator aids design for the visually impaired

One of the problems with getting older is that one's ability to see fine details deteriorates, as does the ability to see in the dark. And that's not good if you drive a motor vehicle, because it means that -- unless you have bifocal or varifocal glasses -- you could struggle to read the instrument cluster while driving.

Recognizing that fact, researchers at Cambridge University's (Cambridge, UK) Engineering Design Centre have developed a Vision Impairment Simulator that enables designers and engineers to gain a better understanding of the effects of a wide variety of visual impairments.

The tool -- developed by Cambridge design research associate Dr. Sam Waller -- allows a user to simulate visual impairments on any image. After an image is loaded into the simulator, an operator can select a visual impairment and look at the image as someone with that impairment would see it.

Even in the case of age-related macular degeneration, where the loss of central vision moves around with the eye, the software simulates the effect by allowing a user to move the "blind spot" around to see its effect on different parts of the image.

The software has already proved a hit with engineers at auto giant Ford (Brentwood, UK), who are using it to study and optimize the design of their instrument displays to ensure they can be safely and comfortably read by as many drivers as possible.

Interestingly enough, the software isn't limited to applications in the automotive field. It has also been used to improve the design of mobile phones and for teaching what’s known as inclusive design at several universities.

Analyzing population statistics and creating design tools that enable designers to engineer products that offer a better experience across a wider range of users is clearly an important issue, and one that will become more important as a greater number of people live to older age.

So now perhaps its time for more companies -- even those in the vision industry -- to make a New Year's resolution to determine how their systems might be made more accessible to a wider group of individuals as well.

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