ANR DEVISE (2021-2025)
From novel rehabilitation protocols to visual aid systems for low vision people through Virtual Reality
|In a nutshell: The ANR DEVISE (Developing Eccentric Viewing in Immersive Simulated Environments) aims to develop in a Virtual Reality headset new functional rehabilitation techniques for visually impaired people. A strong point of these techniques will be the personalization of their parameters according to each patient’s pathology, and they will eventually be based on serious games whose practice will increase the sensory-motor capacities that are deficient in these patients.|
More than one million persons in France are blind in the central part of their visual field because of a non-curable retinopathy (mainly Age-related Macular Degeneration – AMD). This central field loss induces dramatic deficits in several high-level perceptual abilities: mainly text reading, face recognition, and visual search of objects in cluttered environments, thus degrading the autonomy and the quality of life of these people. To adapt to this irreversible handicap, visually impaired people must learn how to use the peripheral parts of their visual field optimally. This requires the development of an “eccentric viewing (EV)” ability allowing low vision persons to “look away” from the entity (e.g., a face) they want to identify. Two kinds of assistance are commonly proposed to help patients cope with their handicap: visual rehabilitation methods whose principle relies on perceptual training across multiple sessions, and visual aids that usually consist of some sort of magnifier.
Objectives and challenges
The theoretical basis of DEVISE is that an efficient improvement of EV should target one of the most fundamental visuomotor functions in humans: pointing at targets with an appropriate combination of hand, head, and eyes. We claim that this function should be re-adapted and assisted in priority thanks to (1) a rehabilitation solution based on an innovative interface (developed by our group and called “smart pointing and augmentation”- SPA), and (2) a visual aid solution, based on the same pointing principles, allowing autonomous interaction with the environment. These two solutions will be developed in a unified Virtual Reality (VR) E-health framework allowing patients and vision care professionals to easily use our solutions in synergy. DEVISE will capitalise on the numerous advantages of VR for low vision patients, notably the possibility to experience complex interactive pointing behaviours. Using this VR framework, DEVISE will address three challenges:
- A scientific challenge: revisit theories about EV by experimental investigation of patient’s ability to interact through head-free pointing tasks with a VR environment.
- A medical challenge: design and test novel technologies for visual rehabilitation and visual aids where patients will be assisted by individualized head-free SPA methods to improve their visual perception. This individualization will rely on retinal imaging techniques.
- An ergonomics challenge: develop innovative human-machine interfaces and serious games, allowing patients to use SPA tools easily and playfully within a VR system. These developments will be inspired by the software tools used in the video game industry to incorporate accessibility issues that are essential for patients.
In terms of medical impact, DEVISE will lay the groundwork for new E-health VR solutions allowing patients to develop efficient strategies of EV. These solutions could be marketed as autonomous VR headsets in the mid-term. The societal impact of DEVISE will be an improvement of patients’ quality of life and empowerment. Finally, great care will be taken to disseminate DEVISE results toward the general public by providing low vision simulators in public festivals and by organising meetings with patients’ associations.
This VR platform will be developed by a pluridisciplinary consortium made of three partners that combine expertise in:
- visual neuroscience (CNRS/Aix Marseille University – AMU, Cognitive Psychology Laboratory, Coordinator : Eric Castet),
- computer vision (Inria Sophia Antipolis, Biovision lab – Members concerned: Pierre Kornprobst, Hui-Yin Wu, Johanna Delachambre, Jérémy Termoz-Masson), and
- VR ergonomics (AMU, Mediterranean Virtual Reality Center – Members concerned: Daniel Mestre and Jean-Marie Pergandi).
Importantly, DEVISE will benefit from the involvement of a clinical centre specialised in retinopathies, the Monticelli-Paradis Ophthalmology Center (MPOC), that will enable us to clinically test the efficiency and usability of our prototypes with patients over the project.