Ford Motor Company and University of Cambridge: Research on Driving and Age-Related Vision Changes

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The Ford Motor Company is teaming with the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Center to create automobile controls and displays that are responsive to the needs of the growing numbers of adults with age-related vision changes.

Age-Related Vision Changes

Just as the body undergoes age-related changes, our eyes undergo similar age-related changes as well. Many of these vision and eye changes are normal and are not caused by disease or illness. They can, however, make it difficult to perform many everyday activities, such as reading small print and seeing clearly at night.

Normal Vision Changes in the Older Eye at describes and illustrates many of these age-related changes, including:

  • Increased sensitivity to glare: Seeing clearly when exposed to reflected light or bright sunlight – especially outdoors on a sunny day or in a hallway with highly polished floors – requires filtered lenses or other adaptations to control glare and to see the environment clearly.
  • Increased lighting requirements: Most older adults require three to four times more light than they did previously to perform many everyday activities. Seeing clearly enough to read, write, sew, or perform home repairs usually requires a brighter, more focused light in addition to reading glasses or bifocals.
  • More time required to adjust to bright light and/or darkness: Adjusting to changes in light levels between bright and dark areas – such as leaving a dim building lobby and walking outside into bright sunlight or moving out of a restaurant with dim lighting into daylight – can take two to three times longer than it did previously.
  • Reduced contrast sensitivity: Seeing an object clearly against a background of the same color becomes more difficult and requires stronger contrast to make it stand out.
  • Decreased ability to judge depth perception: Judging distances accurately – the height of a step or curb, or the depth of a bathtub, for example – requires close attention to safety cues such as color, contrast, and lighting. Shadows and shadow patterns may be incorrectly interpreted as drop-offs or obstacles.
  • Decreased ability to focus close up: As the eye muscles that control switching focus from far to near begin to lose flexibility, it becomes more difficult to focus on things close up. Reading a newspaper, writing, or sewing usually requires reading glasses to accommodate this change in focus.
  • Decreased color sensitivity:Telling certain colors apart becomes more difficult. In particular, it is often difficult to distinguish navy blue from brown or black; blue from green or purple; and pink from yellow or pale green.

About the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Center

The University of Cambridge’s Engineering Design Center undertakes research to create knowledge, understanding, methods, and tools that contribute to improving the design process. The engineering team has developed a Vision and Hearing Impairment Simulator that enables designers and engineers to gain a better understanding of the effects of a wide range of visual, and other, age-related changes.

A trial downloadable version of the simulator is available within the inclusive design tools section of the Design Center’s Inclusive Design website.

The simulator software also has been used to improve the design of mobile phones and to teach the principles of inclusive design to university students. According to Sam Waller, an inclusive design research associate at Cambridge, the simulator project is “…about promoting inclusive design, focusing on ability variation rather than disability, and designing to meet the needs of as many people as possible.”

The Ford Motor Company and Older Drivers

Ford is using the simulator to study and optimize the design of its instrument displays to ensure they can be read safely and comfortably by as many drivers as possible. Since 1994, Ford engineers have also used a “Third Age Suit” to help them better understand issues that older drivers face. The suit restricts mobility, decreases the sense of touch, and includes goggles to simulate cataracts.

More Vision and Driving Information

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VisionAware will provide updates of this interesting and helpful research as they become available.