Last week, I attended an event at Telecom ParisTech, one of France’s top engineering schools. The event gathered about 30 experts in medicine and engineering for a set of conferences and debates dealing with Smart and Communicating Devices for Health and Handicap.
Smart Devices can help in several health domains, from remote diagnosis to re-education. Being able to perform remote medecine can be useful in secluded spots such as high-mountain while re-education can take benefit from serious gaming applications.
On another hand, smart devices can help revive classic objects such as a white stick for visually impaired people. Just add an Infra Red scanner or a laser scanner and you get a Smart Electronic White Stick. Usually, you must touch the obstacle with the stick to be able to avoid it, and that way you’re unable to detect obstacles above the ground such as low tree branches. With such scanners and the help of a suitable sound or vibrating alert, visually impaired people can detect and avoid obstacles much sooner and in a much more fluent way. Demo videos are amazing, with people able to detect narrow corridors, the infamous low tree branches or a set of closed columns and avoid them peacefully, nearly as well as a person with unimpaired vision.
Talking about visual handicap and serious games lead me to an application shown on the Arts & Métiers ParisTech booth, another French top school of Engineers. The application, called Sensivise, has been produced thanks in part to our Passion for Innovation Program (hey! what else? ;-)) with 3DVIA Virtools. The goal is very simple: help valid people to understand the drag of visual impairment.
People get immersed in an urban or a familiar domestic 3D interactive environment. At first, you navigate with your regular, usual valid sight. Then, a visual impairment is simulated and you must adjust your behavior accordingly.
Today, two simulations are available: the central scotoma and the tubular vision (or tunnel vision, or gun barrel vision), but other ones could be added later. The names and pictures say enough about each of those visual impairments. You have to make your way in the city with them, cross a street, avoid a car getting out of a car park etc. Back home, you have to go to the kitchen pick up a milk bottle while avoiding the low table in the living room or to have a shower without hitting the bath tub.
The application shown on Arts & Métiers ParisTech was on a laptop and presents the user with several challenges such as the ones described above. Serious games to help valid people to get in visually impaired people’s shoes, understand their burden and ease life together. When you have gone through this application, maybe you won’t arrange your flat the same way if you happen to live with a visually impaired person.
Though effective on a laptop, Sensivise shows its full power only in its immersive version, as shown in our LIVES (Lifelike Immersive Virtual Experience Space) where you are really immersed in interactive 3D with suitable glasses.
I had several opportunities to show this application in that context, once to a person affected with central scotoma. She told me it was quite realistic, the only glitch being that valid people tend to try and look aside the central macula, which visually impaired people can’t do (the macula “turns” with the eyes). Since then, I always tell people not to do that, but this feedback accounts for the power and relevance of immersive virtual reality.
A last word: most applications presented at Télécom Paris Tech claimed they used “Virtual Reality”. Nope. A plain graphic serious game is not VR, even with nice computer art. Only 3D immersion can do the trick. There’s still a long road ahead, but applications such as Sensivise are showing the way.