IrisVision Is a VR Headset That Delivers Reality to People With Low Vision

I can see clearly now. (Photo: IrisVision)

Barely a month ago I noted that Apple and Google are going to own the tech sector for aging baby boomers. And then what pops into my inbox but a pitch for IrisVision, a sort of virtual reality headset with a Samsung phone clipped to the front.

We have developed the world’s first and only smart visual assistive device built on wearable VR technology to help millions of vision-impaired people regain their sight, achieve independence and do the things they love. Harnessing the power of a Samsung Galaxy smartphone mounted in a Samsung headset, IrisVision enables people who have impaired visual acuity due to conditions such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and RP to see clearly again.
Irisvision headset and phone
Just clip your phone into here... (Photo: IrisVision)

It isn't a VR toy, but rather a Class I medical device developed in collaboration with ophthalmology centers at Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University and UPMC Pittsburg.

IrisVision's award-winning technology opens up the world for low vision people to move about freely and enjoy all the activities they love, whether that be cooking, crocheting, watching a football game or movie, reading a book or prescription bottle -- or simply seeing the faces of those they love again.

Well, you can't quite move around totally freely; the FAQ section says you shouldn't go for walks and definitely don't drive because it doesn't give you a lot of peripheral vision and the "Six Million Dollar Man"-style zoom eyes mess up your depth perception. "In most situations, walking with the device in your hands and bringing it to your eyes as needed is simple and easy. At a museum, for example, you can use it at each exhibit, and remove it from your eyes as you move from place to place."

Thanks to the tech built into the phone, it does a lot of other things that your garden variety eyeballs won't do. Besides letting you see what the camera sees, you can stream videos, look at photos, use Alexa for voice commands, do optical character recognition of text. Coming soon: "the software platform continues to open a world of possibilities for the future including movies and media content."

How does it actually work? The video explains:

Using a smartphone mounted to a headset, IrisVision helps the user's brain access the parts of their eyes that still function properly and provides enough information to fill in the gaps and remap the scene captured by the smartphone camera into a complete picture. This scene enhancement is performed using multiple algorithms developed for various eye conditions.

Opening up a whole new world

There are so many things going on here that are exciting. It's sort of like hearing aids for the eyes, a complex computerized device that amplifies and adjusts the image to work specifically for your particular eye condition. It builds on the incredible computing power that's now built into phones to offer far more features and connectivity than devices that cost twice as much.

Google Cardboard
Google cardboard without the phone. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

It's "not just a product, but an entire platform/ecosystem that connects researchers, eye care professionals, patients and rehabilitation experts." And it's built around a Samsung phone.

Ever since I first tried Google cardboard (and got really seasick) I've been convinced that phones can do just about anything, but IrisVision really shows where things are going. In my recent post I wrote, "Apple and Google are building all these technologies into their phones and Homepods and Google Home. We're all going to be spending our time touring the world with their VR headsets and wearing their watches."

As our original parts wear out, they will become our eyes, our ears and our connections to the world. It's all very exciting.