When modern digital 3D first hit the large and small screen, folks shouted sharply about their visual discomfort: headaches, eye strain, soreness and nausea seemed to rule the day.
Although some of those problems were due to poor stereographic techniques, the seminal research from the American Optometric Association (AOA) laid most of these concerns to rest: discomfort or the inability to see digital 3D without pesky symptoms was not the fault of the technology, but rather, the peculiarities of our own vision. The 3D experience was, in fact, a quick and inexpensive test for healthy binocular vision. If you could experience the richness of 3D, your eyes worked as they were supposed to. If not, an underlying vision issue had just been brought to your attention.
With this revelation, the myth that the 3D experience was “bad for your eyes” or “bad for children” rapidly dissolved. With the launch of the AOA research, schools of optometry and vision health professional associations launched an aggressive two-year training effort to bring the medical community up to speed in the diagnosis and treatment of what has become known as the 3D vision syndrome. And you knew it wouldn’t be long until that same vision revolution hit mobile devices.
Enter Dr. Jen Simonson (OD, FCOVD) of Boulder, Colorado. Dr. Simonson has developed a comprehensive vision testing tool for both in-clinic and home practice use that runs on the iPad. Working with Gerull Labs, Dr. Simonson developed the free Opto app. Opto is currently in limited use in the US, England, Spain, Belgium, Greece, Australia and New Zealand. Opto uses anaglyph or side-by-side 3D to both diagnose and treat a variety of vision anomalies. You can see the diagnostics and exercises here.
These vision anomalies can affect 5-15% of the population and can limit our quality of life, the learning success of students, or the career choices of adults, if not treated. Using the Opto app, Simonson notes: “We can detect if you cannot see 3D; we can measure how small of 3D you can see”, adding “we can quickly see if you need a more comprehensive eye exam”. (Incidentally, Dr. Simonson was well on her way to diagnosing me in minutes, discovering my own amblylopia with her iPad app, even though I had not shared my own vision issue problems with her.) From the answers provided by the patient using the app, Dr. Simonson can correctly identify which eyes are being used to see and if one eye is experiencing suppression. Dr. Simonson explains in lay terms: “In vision therapy, we work on tracking, focusing and eye teaming (when both eyes align and look at the same place). We can change the size of the target to see how much is suppressed; and determine whether central or peripheral vision is being suppressed. Even if the patient is too young to read or cannot speak English, that patient can still touch or point”, Simonson beams.
By developing her app on a mobile device, Dr. Simonson effectively leaps over some of many hurdles faced in currently diagnosing and treating vision disorders. The app is easy to administer, get lots of good information quickly, and provides valid diagnostic testing that is fun for kids to do, at multiple ages. Vision testing isn’t like it used to be: with Opto, children can be presented with a magnificently rendered stereo 3D dog and asked to pet the nose of the dog. What the children does at that moment – and where they stroke the dog (or cat) – informs the doctor how much 3D these children can see, even if they cannot verbalize. Older children and adults can even use a stylus for certain advanced tests.
Making this diagnostic and treatment device work perfectly across many different devices is a long term goal for Dr. Simonson. For now, it is easier to use only the iPad for clinical testing accuracy. Although many of her medical colleagues already like what they see in Opto, Dr. Simonson has launched a lengthy clinical testing trial (health review boards require rigorous clinical testing). The clinical trials are called VIVID (Validation of iPad Vision Diagnostics) and are being conducted in collaboration with The Ohio State University. After clinical testing, the plan is to take the app nationwide.
The Opto app also offers some interesting potential in the sports market. Vision is ultimately trainable. Consider volleyball players who cannot look in an upgaze; or golfers who may struggle with their downgaze. The eyes must work together and be aligned in order to succeed in high-performance sports. Opto can assist with sports vision development, as well.
In the end, using mobile devices for 3D vision testing is all about the benefits. Some of the advantages anticipated from this technology include:
- Cost avoidance. Current paper-based tools are very expensive and damageable.
- Efficiency. Current paper and equipment techniques take more time and effort in diagnosis and treatment.
- Portability. Nurses, nurse assistants, vision assistants, volunteers and patients can take the therapy tools or treatment tools with them – within the office, at the school, on the road, or at home.
- Cost effectiveness. This technology is so easy to use that vision assistants can conduct the tests, not just the doctor.
- Profitability. The use of mobile 3D vision testing allows doctors to see more patients per day – the lifeblood of their income.
- Transport. Since results are recorded in digital format, reports can easily be dispatched electronically to health records, as opposed to the current practice of handwritten, typed, or transcribed notation
In Dr. Simonson’s own words, “There’s simply nothing like this.” I agree. – Len Scrogan