Virtual reality (VR) is obviously in the realm of sight, and VR devices are usually about manipulating visuals to give users a sense of being immersed in the images. But could VR and AR also benefit the visually impaired? Off the bat, you would think not. But Google’s Daydream Labs are developing features that might actually help.
Could VR help someone who’s visually impaired? Daydream Labs is developing accessibility features in Google’s VR portal so that this might actually become a possibility. Using current Google technologies in “alternative text” and Google TalkBack, Daydream Labs is envisioning using VR to be able to help a visually impaired person get a “picture” of the environment around him, using audio labels on objects.
They tested it on an HTC Vive, with users being put inside a virtual room, but in complete darkness to simulate total blindness. All they had were laser pointers that activated audio labels when they pointed to objects in the room, and a location service that told the users how far an object is from the last object that was identified by the laser pointers.
Results are encouraging, with non-visually impaired people as test subjects being able to complete the task asked of them – to pick up a toy laser gun in the room, navigate to a window, and shoot a duck outside the window. Hopefully there are practical ways that Google can use these for visually impaired people.