Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) causes visual field (VF) constriction due to progressive loss of photoreceptors, typically from the retinal periphery to the fovea. Retinal prostheses offer vision restoration via electrode implantation and stimulation near the fovea, thereby eliciting articifial percepts, so-called phosphenes in the center VF. Although foveal photoreceptors can persist for prolonged periods of time, bionic therapy is usually restricted to stages of RP with complete vision loss. However, persons with RP experience mobility impairment from peripherally restricted VFs much earlier. Consequently, the amount of visual scanning necessary for navigation is increased, and maintaining a steady pace is challenging. Receiving a retinal implant at this early stage might be feasible. We investigated the potential of a peripheral visual prosthesis coexisting with central residual vision to facilitate scene perception and mobility. Simulating prosthetic and residual vision in a virtual mobility environment, we found that assistive phosphene layouts were associated with reductions in visual scanning-related head movements of up to 42.1%, body rotations of up to 30%, and up to 45% lower frequency of stopping when circumventing low-lying obstacles, pedestrians and following a path. Further research on early implantation of retinal prostheses for the peripheral VF is therefore advised.
Zapf, M. P. H., Boon, M. Y., Lovell, N. H., & Suaning, G. J. (2015). Assistive peripheral prosthetic vision AIDS perception and mobility in outdoor environments: A virtual-reality simulation study. In Proceedings of the Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, EMBS (Vol. 2015-November, pp. 1638–1641). Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. https://doi.org/10.1109/EMBC.2015.7318689