This story is from the category Health
Date posted: 24/05/2006
A breakthrough has been announced in the ten-year-old RIMVS project (Retinal Imaging Machine Vision System) which strives to project visual images directly onto the cells of the retina. Thanks o the continuing progress oftechnology, the latest model costs just one-twentieth of the original price.
RIMVS is meant to use direct retinal projection to bypass blindness or partial blindness caused damage to or loss of function in the eye. Its developers say the machine could let thousands of people who suffer degenerative vision loss read books and familiarise themselves with the layout of a new building before visiting it for the first time.
RIMVS has now been successfully tested on 10 partially blind subjects in the first pilot study.
"Until we tried it out on other people, I was the creator and the guinea pig," says Elizabeth Goldring, a poetry professor at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, who has led development of the machine and is herself partially blind. "Now we know it is valuable and valid."
The RIMVS machine consists of a box about the size of a thick laptop, which is connected to a PC. A user looks into the box via a viewfinder and images are then projected onto the back of their eye. LED light is directed, via a series of lenses, through a partially transparent LCD, controlled by the PC. The LCD and can generate images at a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels in 8 different shades of grey.
Subjects were shown 10 "word images" as they peered into a box. These consisted of words with certain letters replaced by graphics. For example, the image word "book" had an image of a book in place of both of the two middle letters and the word "fur" was written with the texture of furry skin. The idea was devised by Goldring to make it easier for people with visual impairments to read quickly.
In the pilot study, six out of the 10 patients interpreted all 10 "word images" correctly. Two patients interpreted nine out of 10 correctly and two correctly identified eight of 10. Without the machine all the patients were too blind to have any hope of reading.
Another feature of the machine tested during the trials is the "pre-visit" function. This introduces the user to an interactive virtual world which they can explore using joystick. This gives them the experience of exploring a building before they actually visit it.
"A really terrifying experience for people who are blind is to go to new places," Goldring says.
A similar type of retinal projection technology could one day also be used to create more innovative display systems for those with good eyesight. One such device, called the Virtual Retinal Display, has been developed by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, US.
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