Floating TV images may help Parkinson’s sufferers

Sport glasses that allow a viewer to watch TV while mowing the lawn may someday allow Parkinson’s disease victims to walk at a normal pace.

The glasses, which grew out of virtual reality research at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory on the UW campus, project video images onto a screen mounted just below eye level on one lens.

Designed for mobility in a manner similar to a Sony Walkman, the glasses are manufactured by Virtual Vision Inc. When Tom Reiss, a California podiatrist who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, heard about them, he wondered if they could help him break through his hesitant walking gait, characteristic of the disorder.

At one stage of the disease, sufferers can walk at a near-normal pace if there is a track of coins, cards or other objects placed on the floor. Reiss asked one of the inventors, Engineering Professor Thomas Furness III, if the glasses could reproduce this effect. Suzanne Weghost, a UW research scientist, helped design various videotaped cues to be projected on the glasses’ screen. In a test Reiss quickly discovered that he was walking back and forth at a near-normal gait. UW scientists are now trying to define the phenomenon further.