ERI Publishes Documented Case of a Driver Who is Low Vision Using Car Automation Features

By Holly Herring • Apr 27, 2022

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Researcher from the Envision Research Institute Publishes Documented Successful Case Study of a Driver Who is Low Vision Using Car Automation Features

Dr. Jing Xu’s report was published in the April Issue of Optometry and Vision Science by the American Academy of Optometry

Wichita, Kan. (Apr. 27, 2022) — When a person starts to lose their vision, their number one concern is about their ability to drive. For nearly three years at the Gigi and Carl Allen Envision Research Institute (ERI), Jing Xu, Ph.D., has been exploring how to help adults with vision loss continue to drive. Now, Dr. Xu has published the first documented case study of a driver who is visually impaired successfully using assistive and semiautonomous driving technologies in a Tesla Model Y car. The full clinical research report was published in the April Issue of Optometry and Vision Science by the American Academy of Optometry

Through a collaboration with the Bicknell Envision Vision Rehabilitation Center, Dr. Xu learned about a 53-year-old patient with Stargardt disease and 20/182 acuity who desired to be able to drive safely and independently again. For the case study, Dr. Xu researched the patient's driving habits, adaptive strategies and use of bioptic telescope along with assisted driving features in the Tesla Model Y. Since purchasing the Tesla Model Y equipped with the self-driving package in 2020, the patient has driven more than 10,000 miles including a 1,700-mile road trip across multiple states where no accidents or incidents were reported. The patient often used the voice control function to help compensate for the car’s inaccessible interface and used a phone magnifier app, while the car was stopped, to navigate the touchscreen dashboard. The study found that codriving with these features allows him to confidently drive more often and to avoid less situations than he used to.

“I’m honored to have studied this individual, alongside Karen Kendrick at the Envision Vision Rehabilitation Center, who is losing his vision, but still striving to keep his independence,” said Jing Xu, Research Associate, Envision Research Institute. “With the advancement of technology, continued research, and now strong evidence from the case study, we’re making great strides to give people who are blind or visually impaired back their ability to drive safely and independently.”

Glasses sitting on top of a Tesla car steering wheel

The case study is significant because, to cope with vision loss, the patient developed new driving strategies by codriving with different assistive and semiautonomous features in the Tesla car. He shifted his main task from active driving to cautiously monitoring the road and supervising the car automation systems in most situations, and adapted use of his bioptic telescope to support him with monitoring the road environment before granting permission to the automated systems for car maneuver changes. 

Dr. Xu will present the findings from this study at the Envision Conference May 19-21, 2022, at the Ohio State University, in collaboration with the College of Optometry, in Columbus, Ohio. She will also give a podium presentation in Denver at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) annual meeting in May. Dr. Xu is actively recruiting drivers who are visually impaired nationwide to further investigate how assistance and semi-autonomous features can support drivers with vision impairments.

Dr. Xu conducted postdoctoral research at Harvard University and has her Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Northeastern University. Dr. Xu’s research at ERI focuses on using virtual simulation technology to investigate the impact of vision impairments on driving as well as investigating driver assistance technologies and self-driving car accessibility features to support safe mobility and independence for road users who are blind and visually impaired.

“Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles (AVs) can minimize human error and greatly improve driving safety for people with vision loss if designed correctly,” said Ronald Schuchard, Ph.D. FARVO, Executive Director of the ERI and EU. “We are privileged to have Dr. Xu continue to investigate the potential benefits and risks of these driving technologies at the Envision Research Institute.”

Dr. Xu’s research is generously funded by Bosma Enterprises, a sister agency to Envision through National Industries for the Blind, is an Indianapolis-based company that provides manufacturing, job training, employment services, and rehabilitation for people who are blind or visually impaired.

ERI has become a hub of low vision and blind rehabilitation research and attracts fellows from around the world. It was created by Envision in 2014 to help raise the standard for low vision and blind rehabilitation patient care and to remove barriers by investigating the functional implications of vision loss, access to interventions, optimizing rehabilitation therapies and developing assistive technology. Additional details about the ERI research program and its research studies can be found online at research.envisionus.com. 

About Envision: Envision promotes advocacy and independence for those who are blind or have low vision. Founded in 1933, Envision is one of the largest employers of individuals with vision loss in the nation. Headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, Envision’s mission is to improve the quality of life and provide inspiration and opportunity for people who are blind or visually impaired through employment, outreach, rehabilitation, education, and research. For more information, visit www.envisionus.com.

Media Contact: Holly Herring, Marketing Manager 
Office: 316-440-1531 | Email: media@envisionus.com