Ford uses online software tool to simulate visual impairments

Ford is hoping to make it easier for people with poor eyesight to drive by using a visual impairment simulator to redesign its instruments.

The US car manufacturer is using an online software tool developed by a team from Cambridge University’s Engineering Design Centre in 2007 to better understand how people with sight conditions see the world.

The simulator reproduces the effects of conditions such as cataracts and colour blindness, and aims to show how even mild visual disabilities can prevent people from reading things.

It allows anyone to upload images of their own designs in order to test how they might appear to people with different sight impairments.

‘One of the unique features of our simulation is the ability to vary the degree of visual impairment from very mild to very severe,’ Dr Sam Waller, an inclusive design research associate at Cambridge University, told The Engineer.

Ford believes many older drivers struggle to read the instruments on the dashboard while driving unless they have bifocal or varifocal glasses.

Other eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are also prevalent among those 50 and older.

As a result, the company is using the tool 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.

Previously, Ford relied on using the ‘Third Age Suit’ to help its designers to better understand the difficulties faced by older drivers. The suit, which includes goggles that simulate cataracts, restricts mobility and lessens the sense of touch.

Angelika Engel, ergonomics attribute specialist at Ford of Europe, said in a statement: ‘The goggles are a very useful tool but this software is a big leap forward because it lets us simulate so many different impairments.

‘For example, if we were to load in an image of a display and process it for red-green colour blindness, you might instantly see that some numbers and letters become a lot harder to read. We can then change the design accordingly.’

Engel added that the software is helping Ford to identify any areas for improvement and to develop solutions to be implemented in future vehicles.

The software has also been used to improve the design of mobile phones and for teaching inclusive design at several universities.