As cheaper virtual reality headsets continue to enter the market, many manufacturers have been working on solutions to open up the platforms to more people with vision problems. Just like eyeglasses, VR rigs can be outfitted with prescription lenses. But what if a VR headset could be used to help correct a vision problem?
San Francisco-based startup Vivid Vision Inc. has been seeking the answer to that question since 2014 and today it announced a seed round for $2.2 million. The fund has been led by Jeff Clavier from SoftTech VC. Additional investors included The Venture Reality Fund, CRCM Ventures, SOS Ventures, Anorak Ventures and Liquid 2 Ventures, a venture capital firm co-founded by former 49er quarterback Joe Montana.
Founder and Chief Executive James Blaha is a programmer who suffers from the vision condition amblyopia, also called a “lazy eye.” As a result, he could barely read with the weak eye and could certainly not see in 3D, so effective use of a VR headset for entertainment would be out of the question.
Blaha started with a pile of medical research on the subject, an Oculus Rift Development Kit and applied his own computer science knowledge to develop a treatment using VR. Using his own methodology, Blaha said he eventually regained most of his vision.
“It is a unique, far more efficient solution to treat amblyopia as well as a wide array of binocular vision dysfunction,” said Dr. Dan Fortenbacher, founder of Wow Vision Therapy, which has two locations in Michigan.
Lazy eye is only one of a list of ailments that affect 3D vision that can benefit from treatments that involve physical therapy and vision training. The Vivid Vision system uses immersive VR to provide this vision training and can take advantage of the fact that it is displaying images directly to each eye – and therefore can be tuned to the specific requirements of the user’s condition.
The clinical version of his experiment launched in late 2015 and is now used in over 90 clinics across the world and has been used to help treat over 6,000 patients. “Vivid Vision Home will make vision therapy accessible to millions of new patients for whom treatment was previously too expensive or inconvenient,” said Blaha.
Blaha said the goal of Vivid Vision with the seed money would be to expand its vision care program to more clinics at less cost. Although the treatment is currently only available at clinics and administered under the supervision of a trained eye care professional, the company hopes to release a version of the treatment that can be used at home.
The home version, Vivid Vision Home, would run on both desktop and mobile VR platforms and would require a prescription from an eye doctor. Vivid Vision currently supports the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift and Google Daydream VR systems and comes with its own preprogrammed interactive and exciting exercises and tests.