Volume 1, number 2

Probing the eye with virtual reality

Thanks to an immersion cave equipped with a 3-dimensional sound and image system, researchers can penetrate into the human eye virtually. Equipped with cybernetic glasses and gloves, they watch blood vessels contract, hear the heartbeat and can touch the optical nerve. Acquired at a cost of 1.8 million dollars, this virtual environment is the only one in Canada dedicated entirely to applied human research.

Observing the infinitely small in the eye is one of the many simulations carried out at Jocelyn Faubert's virtual reality and image processing centre at the psychophysics and visual perception laboratory. The professor in the School of Optometry at Université de Montréal studies the human visual system, including problems related to presbytia, macular degeneration and optical correction.
"Using synthetic images created by computer and projected on the floor and three walls, the cave creates the illusion of a real environment. But the difference is that the subject can move around without danger," says professor Faubert. "His slightest movement makes the images he sees move. You can also do the reverse: the subject is immobile in the middle of the room and the images give him the impression he is moving."

The cave automatic virtual environment (CAVE) makes it possible to see how people behave in a fictitious environment when information is complex. For example, how do you find a path through a crowd, in traffic or when going up an escalator. Researchers can evaluate individuals' capacities to move and find objects.

"For the elderly and persons suffering from a pathology of the eye, it is often difficult to move around in places where action is intense, because motion comes from many sources. The cave makes it possible to analyze daily activities more realistically than on a two-dimensional screen," says the winner of the Scientific Prize of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and holder of the Essilor Industrial Chair.

Experiments conduced at the virtual reality and image processing centre are designed to help researchers better understand dysfunctions relating to perception of space, form and motion, among other things. This kind of disturbance is found most often in the elderly, in particular people suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and macular degeneration.

Researcher : Jocelyn Faubert
Phone : (514) 343-7289
Funding : Canadian Foundation for Innovation, Essilor Industrial Chair, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)