Post 2: Clinical Research at SERI

Driving in the simulator. Taking an exit off the highway to our digital ski resort – see the snow-capped mountains on the right?

Here at Schepens Eye Research Institute (SERI) in Boston, I have been working on four research projects. In the first project, we are investigating the relationship between visual impairment and auditory distraction as well as the effects of age on these interactions. In order to test this, we have subjects from two different age groups (young = 20-40, old = 60+) drive in our driving simulator (see picture above) while wearing goggles that simulate visual impairment and performing an auditory distraction task. The visual impairment goggles use dispersion filters to blur vision and simulate eye conditions such as cataracts. The auditory task involves listening to an audio book and repeating back certain words (such as “the”) every time they are said. This is a lot harder than it seems. Try it at home! But not while driving. During these drives, pedestrians appear, and the driver must honk each time they see one. Response times are recorded as well as data about the control and motion of the vehicle. [Note: If you or someone you know is a current driver in the Boston area, age 60+, you qualify to participate. We are still recruiting. Contact me.]

The second project I am helping with is related to the first. In this project, we use the same auditory task, but we leave out the goggles so that we can track head and eye movement. Our eye tracking device is unable to track eyes through the dispersion filters on the goggles, so in order to examine the effects of auditory distraction on gaze movements we must do without the goggles. The eye tracking device utilizes six cameras and infrared lights around the simulator. The data we receive from this is in the form of graphs of head and gaze movements surrounding pedestrian events. Here is an example of one of these plots:

This plot shows the head and gaze movements surrounding the presence of a pedestrian. The red line represents head movement, and the blue line shows gaze movement. Yellow and green lines along the blue line show glances. The two black vertical lines indicate the time that the pedestrian is on screen. The green dash at the top is the moment the horn is honked.

The third project I am helping with involves driving with a bioptic telescope, a device attached to glasses that people with visual impairments may use to help them drive and read street signs (see picture below). Unfortunately, the telescope creates a ring-shaped blind spot around that impairs vision. Therefore, during our experimental drives, we have signs that participants look at through the telescope and honk at pedestrians they see. We then examine the timing of how the head and eyes move to look through the telescope as part of a bigger study that examines the effect of this blind spot on pedestrian detection.

Bioptic telescope

In these three projects, I help to run subjects through our experiments, which involves obtaining consent, doing vision measures (including visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and central visual field), and running them through the drives in the simulator. I also help to process and analyze the data we collect.

The final project I am working on is a telephone questionnaire that we are designing in order to gather information about how much drivers with visual impairments use in-vehicle assistive technologies (such as cruise control) and whether or not these devices are helpful. This project is in the beginning stages, and I have been helping to design the questionnaire, fill out paperwork, and pilot the questionnaire to make it clear and usable.

So far, I have been having a lot of fun and have learned a great deal about each step of the clinical research process. During my final few weeks, I hope to continue running subjects and learning more about data analysis.

For more information about the lab, visit the lab’s website here: http://bowerslab.eye.hms.harvard.edu/

If you are in the Boston area and are interested in participating in experiments here, let me know!

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