Ford has joined forces with Cambridge University in England to gain a better understanding of visual impairment issues that come with an aging society and to use digital tools to better design vehicles for those with vision problems.
The World Health Organization reports that 285 million people worldwide suffer from some form of visual impairment. Of these, about 65 percent are aged 50 and over. And with a rapidly aging population, the number of visually impaired is expected to grow.
Working with Cambridge University
To respond to this growing problem, Ford has joined forces with a team of experts from the University of Cambridge’s Engineering Design Center. The team has developed a Vision Impairment Simulator to enable designers and engineers to gain a better understanding of the effects of a wide variety of visual impairments.
“It allows you to simulate visual impairments on any image. You load in an image, select a visual impairment and it lets you see the image as someone with that impairment would see it,” said Sam Waller, an inclusive design research associate at Cambridge, who developed the software. “You can then load in other designs and instantly compare the effects, or you can change the impairment and see how the design stands up to different problems.
“Even in the case of age-related macular degeneration, where the loss of central vision moves around with the eye, the software simulates this effect by allowing the user to move the “blind-spot” around to see its effect on different parts of the image,” Waller said.
Ford is using the software to study and optimize the design of its instrument displays, to ensure they can be safely and comfortably read by as many drivers as possible. The software also has been used to improve the design of mobile phones and for teaching inclusive design at several universities.
“For us, it is about promoting inclusive design, focusing on ability variation rather than disability, and designing to meet the needs of as many people as possible,” Waller said. “The software features a slider which enables you to instantly change the severity of the visual impairment, from very mild to very severe, so that companies can set a target for the level of visual impairment they will accommodate.”