Dr Pete Jones demonstrating his research, as another person wears a VR headset and tries out the experience directly

Dr Pete Jones is a researcher at The Child Vision Lab. He is using virtual reality (VR) technology to try to help people understand what it’s like to have certain eye conditions.

Simulations of sight loss are already being used widely as educational aids, both for the public and when training the next generation of healthcare professionals. 

More recently, a number of smartphone apps have been launched, which use digital filters to degrade images, using virtual’ or augmented’ reality. 

Unfortunately, research has consistently demonstrated that these simulators are insufficient, with patients and clinicians consistently rating their depictions of sight loss as poor’ or very poor’.

Dr Jones is a researcher at The Child Vision Lab, which is part of UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. He received a £14,000 if funding to develop an advanced software platform that simulates sight loss using virtual reality (VR).

Dr Jones on his new project

Currently children’s eye tests are more of an art than a science. And without precise, quantitative measures, it is hard to detect impairments, monitor progression or evaluate novel treatments. 

For example, Moorfields is currently trialling new gene and stem cell therapies. But if we aren’t able to measure what a child sees before and after treatment, how will we know if these revolutionary new treatments are useful and cost effective?

I believe simulations can provide a really simple and effective way to help people understand eye disease. They could be used to teach new medical students or to help families and carers understand what sight is like for a loved one.

They can also help us to develop simple coping strategies for everyday problems. 

Wouldn’t it be good, for example, if you could sit in your child’s classroom and see what difference it makes when you move their chair or change the lighting in the room?

I also think simulations will become a vital tool for engineers and architects, allowing them to design spaces that are more accessible and welcoming for people with sight loss. 

Finally, as a scientist, an effective simulator would allow us to systematically explore the effects of visual impairment in a quick, controlled manner.”

a series of snapshots taken from the VR headset experience, showing representations of different types of sight ability

VR allows individuals without sight loss to experience sight loss in an immersive, interactive and intuitive way. 

To see what the simulation is like and get a better understanding of Dr Jones’s work, watch this video.