Steering wheel and dashboard of Ford car

Cambridge team helps Ford understand vision problems

Ford is working with Cambridge University to gain a better understanding of visual impairment in an ageing society, using digital tools to better design its vehicles.

As people age, their ability to see fine details deteriorates, as does the ability to see in the dark. Many drivers can struggle to read the instrument cluster while driving, unless they have bifocal or varifocal glasses. Other eye conditions, such as glaucoma, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, are also prevalent among the over 50s.

Now Ford has joined forces with a team of experts from the Engineering Design Centre at Cambridge to develop a Vision Impairment Simulator to enable designers and engineers to gain a better understanding of the effects of a wide variety of visual impairments.

“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.

“Even with 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 optimise the design of its instrument displays, to ensure they can be safely and comfortably read by as many drivers as possible. The software has also been used to improve the design of mobile phones and for teaching inclusive design at several universities.

“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,” Waller explained.

“This is a big leap forward because it lets us simulate so many different impairments and levels of severity,” said Angelika Engel, ergonomics attribute specialist at Ford of Europe. “For example, if we were to load in an image of a display and process it for red-green colour blindness, you might see that some numbers and letters become a lot harder to read. We can then change the design accordingly.

At this stage, the software is helping to identify areas for improvement and come up with solutions for future vehicles.

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