I have always been fascinated by technological advancement. A continual, often subtle interplay occurs between technology and its application. The interplay often evolves in unpredictable ways creating never intended and sometimes massive disruptions. Examples abound. Who would have thought five years ago that clever exploitation of social media could have an impact on national level elections? Or the spread of Uber creating obvious challenges to traditional taxi cabs and unanticipated stress to municipalities. Fortunately, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Few would disagree that the internet through e-commerce, education, and social networking has allowed the poor in developing countries to improve living standards. Such profound changes to our society will continue to occur, often in ways that are only obvious after the fact.
To some extent, on a smaller scale, the team at EyeQue are experiencing this effect as we leverage the smartphone revolution to enhance the eye care industry. By harnessing the powerful built-in capabilities of smartphones EyeQue has created a business developing vision testing technology previously unavailable to the consumer. The phone provides the optical, processing, and communication functions that would cost thousands of dollars to build into a custom device. Based on this powerful idea, we create solutions that are more than two orders of magnitude lower in cost than custom equivalent devices – not to mention, fully mobile and compact. For example, desktop commercial auto refractors cost on the order of $10,000. In comparison, our first award-winning product3, the EyeQue Personal Vision Tracker (PVT), a $30.00 smart phone attachment, to conduct at-home DIY1 refraction tests. People are thrilled when they can get results for themselves and their family and friends. They get a feeling of enablement and freedom.
Why Innovate the “E” Chart – Visual Acuity Test
We’ve talked to eye care industry experts about the PVT’s accuracy, applicability, and impact. These interactions often provided new insight into how technology could solve problems or provide new opportunities for the industry. One common theme we heard over the past year has been around the accelerating myopia epidemic. The world population, especially children, are experiencing greater levels of myopia (nearsightedness) than ever before. Detecting the onset of myopia through more frequent visual acuity2 (VA) testing would lead to earlier detection and treatments which could reduce the long term damaging effects.
Based on our conversations with eye care professionals and with our customers, we were determined to develop something mobile, lightweight, scalable, and affordable to consumers and to businesses or charities with limited resources. In addition, we wanted to make sure that kids, the group with perhaps the most to gain from this product, would use it and would love it.
Beyond screening visual acuity, a solution such as this could also be used to determine how well your eyeglasses or contacts are performing – something anyone with “failing” glasses can appreciate. It became clear to us that a reimagined visual acuity test is ripe for the DIY consumer market.
Innovation Begets Innovation
We decided to invest in a binocular platform that would be initially used for visual acuity, but would subsequently support other vision tests. Developing the binocular platform provides inherent benefits in accuracy and usability for the visual acuity screener. Further, the investment in such a scalable platform will serve our customers and the company as we are able to produce more types of vision tests at a rapid pace.
EyeQue’s binocular optical attachment converts the pixel images on the screen, literally 6 inches from the user, into a virtualized image at infinity, making self-testing easy and accurate. There’s no ambiguity when it comes to distance – unlike the physical distance required for the traditional wall-chart. Plus, the binocular device allows one to test single and dual eye performance quickly and without moving the device.
But aren’t there already smartphone apps that test visual acuity? Why develop a hardware attachment? Simply put, these apps can’t accurately screen distance vision. Visual acuity tests require the user to stand at least 10 feet away from a wall chart, substantially longer than arm’s length. Since these free apps usually require you to touch the smartphone screen or use volume controls to run through the test display, taking a test is not a simple solo effort – unless your arms are at least 6 feet long.
Optical Engineering Turns to Animation
Since we were making a product with kids in mind, we had to think of ways to make the test engaging and easy to use. This in turn led us to creating a “Kids” mode with gamification and animation, taking us to a place I never imagined EyeQue would go. Already, the adoption of Seymour, our kid’s host, has inspired many ideas and provided much appreciated levity in the office.
The software powered test also allows us to randomize the test characters so there is no memorization at play (an accuracy improvement relevant for all ages!).
Bringing Eye Care into the 21st Century
Another advantage to developing our solutions using smartphones and cloud-based technologies is the digitizing and automation of records. Traditional methods, even today in many cases, require optometrists and school nurses, to capture test results manually and record them into a separate file. Conversely, tests performed on EyeQue screeners are instantly and securely stored in the EyeQue Cloud, where individuals effortlessly create, access and share their personal vision histories. This allows anyone to track visual acuity changes over time and have an integrated view of different types of vision tests.
And because we could, we added a Pupillary Distance (PD) estimator to measure, capture and store your PD, a measure frequently needed for eyeglass ordering and often omitted from your paper prescription.
We set out to develop a simple way to test visual acuity leveraging smartphones for mobility, convenience, and to keep costs to the consumer down. In the process, we developed a scalable hardware platform that will return dividends in terms of speed of future vision test solutions. The company will scale faster and people worldwide will get access to more at-home solutions sooner. We went beyond developing a simple, accurate testing platform and paid particular attention to an important audience – kids – reducing the friction parents may face in getting children to test their vision. And by design, we improved accuracy over traditional methods, something the eye care industry perhaps hadn’t considered possible.
The EyeQue Insight will ship in March 2018 and is available on Kickstarter now.
1 ”DIY” is a term that stands for “Do It Yourself”
2 A visual acuity test is most commonly administered using an eye chart affixed to a wall. An acuity of 20/20 denotes good vision. This is not the same thing as a refraction eye test.
3 EyeQue was awarded the CES 2017 Best of Innovation award in the Fitness category and was recognized by the prestigious SPIE Prism Award.