Objective. Retinal prostheses aim to restore some vision in retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration blind patients. Many spatial and temporal aspects have been found to affect prosthetic vision. Our objective is to study the impact of the space-variant distance between the stimulating electrodes and the surface of the retina on prosthetic vision and how to mitigate this impact. Approach. A prosthetic vision simulation was built to demonstrate the perceptual effects of the electrode-retina distance (ERD) with different random spatial variations, such as size, brightness, shape, dropout, and spatial shifts. Three approaches for reducing the ERD effects are demonstrated: electrode grouping (quads), ERD-based input-image enhancement, and object scanning with and without phosphene persistence. A quantitative assessment for the first two approaches was done based on experiments with 20 subjects and three vision-based computational image similarity metrics. Main results. The effects of various ERDs on phosphenes' size, brightness, and shape were simulated. Quads, chosen according to the ERDs, effectively elicit phosphenes without exceeding the safe charge density limit, whereas single electrodes with large ERD cannot do so. Input-image enhancement reduced the ERD effects effectively. These two approaches significantly improved ERD-affected prosthetic vision according to the experiment and image similarity metrics. A further reduction of the ERD effects was achieved by scanning an object while moving the head. Significance. ERD has multiple effects on perception with retinal prostheses. One of them is vision loss caused by the incapability of electrodes with large ERD to evoke phosphenes. The three approaches presented in this study can be used separately or together to mitigate the impact of ERD. A consideration of our approaches in reducing the perceptual effects of the ERD may help improve the perception with current prosthetic technology and influence the design of future prostheses.
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