Virtual Reality Screens Could Soon Be Tailored To Your Glasses Prescription

Digital health startup EyeNetra could revolutionize VR

A demonstration of NETRA, the vision-testing technology developed by EyeNetra

Screenshot; Vitor Fernando Pamplona via YouTube

EyeNetra, a startup that has created technology to develop inexpensive, smartphone-based vision tests, is in talks with virtual reality companies to make screens that can cater to users' specific vision requirements. The development could improve virtual reality headsets, making them more efficient and user-friendly, according to a press release from MIT News.

Virtual reality screens differ from those, say, on your smartphone or computer because they take advantage of how our eyes perceive depth to trick your brain into thinking you're seeing in 3D. Your brain knows the distance between each eye and is able to compile the slightly different information it's receiving from each one into one cohesive image. Virtual reality headsets work by relying on this same principle, showing you slightly different video feeds in each eye to give your brain the illusion of a 3D world.

And though these screens can be slightly altered depending on the distance between the wearer's eyes, most aren't sophisticated enough to take into account the built-in refractive errors that many of us have, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. Right now, people with these types of vision problems have to wear their glasses inside virtual reality headsets if they want to preserve the illusion. That's uncomfortable, awkward, and frankly doesn't work that well—if the glasses move slightly, they can throw off the video's calibration, making the user motion-sick and nauseous.

Some VR headsets like the Oculus Rift (available now only for software developers from parent company Facebook) do come with several different sets of interchangeable lenses that attempt to adjust for common levels of nearsightedness, but these also aren't nearly as precise as actual prescription lenses.

EyeNetra’s device uses screens to determine a user’s refractive errors in order to prescribe them corrective lenses or glasses. Virtual reality companies could use EyeNetra’s technology to take the same measurements in order to tweak the overlapping video feed in their headsets. The result, according to EyeNetra’s co-founder Ramesh Raskar, could be video feeds individualized to each user’s unique vision.

Motion sickness continues to be one of the biggest problems with virtual reality, and no one is quite sure how to solve it. Though the press release doesn't mention exactly which virtual reality company is collaborating with EyeNetra, minimizing those effects for the 75 percent of Americans that wear glasses might be an important step towards a solution—and greater accessibility for the devices as they become more available to the public, with Facebook's Oculus Rift, HTC's Vive, and Sony's PlayStation VR all due out in early 2016. There's no word on when EyeNetra's screens might hit the market.