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Breakthrough technology developed to advance eye care for children

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17 February 2021

Objective Acuity is creating an accessible and accurate way of detecting vision problems early in life by developing the first objective vision screening test based on visual acuity for children under the age of five. The venture was founded by Dr Ben Thompson, a Professor of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Auckland, Dr Jason Turuwhenua and Dr Mehrdad Sangi at the University of Auckland’s Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI). 

Objective Acuity has meaningful potential to help identify vision problems as early as possible. Undetected problems can reduce school achievement, harm the development of hand-eye coordination, and lead to a lifelong reduction in vision. Mehrdad explains that “Vision disorders are currently the most prevalent, disabling condition among children. However, studies suggest that a child cannot fully understand, and therefore cannot effectively undertake, a visual acuity test until they are five or six years old. If a child waits until this age or later, vision impairments are significantly harder to treat and related learning difficulties can develop. Regular vision assessments in early childhood reduce this risk by more than 50%. However, inefficiencies in current testing methods limit a child’s access to accurate screening and subsequent treatment.”

Traditional letter and picture charts that are the current gold standard of visual acuity testing can be unreliable, inefficient, and inaccurate as they require a response from the participant and are subjective to the individual. Other methods like portable autorefractors and photo screeners are more objective, but are still limited in that they only measure the risk factors of a child’s vision rather than the visual acuity. Objective Acuity’s technology is a portable, objective solution that addresses these problems. It is easy to use for non-eyecare professionals and parents, improves access to vision screening globally, and is scalable for large populations and markets.

Objective Acuity are one of four innovative Kiwi businesses to have recently received a share of $625k from Spark’s 5G Starter Fund. The fund is dedicated to bringing some of New Zealand’s first 5G-powered ideas to life and awarded to businesses that have showcased how 5G could deliver positive outcomes to communities across the country. Spark’s funding as well general progress in 5G technology will help Objective Acuity get one step closer to fundamentally changing the way people access healthcare. Mehrdad says, “With our tests using high definition video, 5G would allow us to implement powerful AI analysis in the cloud to deliver accurate real-time test results on any 5G capable device. This would make vision tests more accessible and able to be used more broadly within the community. For example, tests could be performed in pharmacies, early childhood centers and eventually, in the home. 5G will help us further optimise our existing tests and in the future enable us to reach more people in the community.”

Objective Acuity started as an interdisciplinary research project between the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) and the University’s School of Optometry and Vision Science. Clinicians required Mehrdad’s engineering expertise to develop a way of automatically detecting a specific eye movement in young children. UniServices saw the commercial potential in the project and helped the team develop their idea further. He says, “I would like to thank ABI and UniServices for encouraging students to become future entrepreneurs. There are already many successful spin-out companies and the entrepreneurial culture there is awesome!”

“I have always been interested in applied and translational research because I want to put my innovative work in the community and see people using it to improve their quality of life,” says Mehrdad. So, he took courses in entrepreneurship while completing his PhD and participated in Velocity (then, Spark) entrepreneurship competitions and events to further learn how to commercialise his research. He says, “I learned a lot from Spark workshops. They enabled me to upskill myself particularly in finance, business plan writing, marketing, and project and time management. Furthermore, I met many amazing people and learned a lot from them. We are still connected and occasionally share our gained knowledge.”

A key take out from Velocity for Mehrdad was the importance of having a well rounded team to support your idea. “As an engineer and researcher, I came to realise that raising money, managing operations, marketing, and business development are just as important as R&D and the technology itself. Do good quality research and then find people who can help you with other aspects of entrepreneurship. If you are a University of Auckland student, take part in Velocity. Their workshops are great for learning the basics of entrepreneurship as well as expanding your network. You will meet remarkable people who could be your future co-founders!”

Nicholas Bing
Nicholas Bing

social media

17 February 2021

Objective Acuity is creating an accessible and accurate way of detecting vision problems early in life by developing the first objective vision screening test based on visual acuity for children under the age of five. The venture was founded by Dr Ben Thompson, a Professor of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Auckland, Dr Jason Turuwhenua and Dr Mehrdad Sangi at the University of Auckland’s Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI). 

Objective Acuity has meaningful potential to help identify vision problems as early as possible. Undetected problems can reduce school achievement, harm the development of hand-eye coordination, and lead to a lifelong reduction in vision. Mehrdad explains that “Vision disorders are currently the most prevalent, disabling condition among children. However, studies suggest that a child cannot fully understand, and therefore cannot effectively undertake, a visual acuity test until they are five or six years old. If a child waits until this age or later, vision impairments are significantly harder to treat and related learning difficulties can develop. Regular vision assessments in early childhood reduce this risk by more than 50%. However, inefficiencies in current testing methods limit a child’s access to accurate screening and subsequent treatment.”

Traditional letter and picture charts that are the current gold standard of visual acuity testing can be unreliable, inefficient, and inaccurate as they require a response from the participant and are subjective to the individual. Other methods like portable autorefractors and photo screeners are more objective, but are still limited in that they only measure the risk factors of a child’s vision rather than the visual acuity. Objective Acuity’s technology is a portable, objective solution that addresses these problems. It is easy to use for non-eyecare professionals and parents, improves access to vision screening globally, and is scalable for large populations and markets.

Objective Acuity are one of four innovative Kiwi businesses to have recently received a share of $625k from Spark’s 5G Starter Fund. The fund is dedicated to bringing some of New Zealand’s first 5G-powered ideas to life and awarded to businesses that have showcased how 5G could deliver positive outcomes to communities across the country. Spark’s funding as well general progress in 5G technology will help Objective Acuity get one step closer to fundamentally changing the way people access healthcare. Mehrdad says, “With our tests using high definition video, 5G would allow us to implement powerful AI analysis in the cloud to deliver accurate real-time test results on any 5G capable device. This would make vision tests more accessible and able to be used more broadly within the community. For example, tests could be performed in pharmacies, early childhood centers and eventually, in the home. 5G will help us further optimise our existing tests and in the future enable us to reach more people in the community.”

Objective Acuity started as an interdisciplinary research project between the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) and the University’s School of Optometry and Vision Science. Clinicians required Mehrdad’s engineering expertise to develop a way of automatically detecting a specific eye movement in young children. UniServices saw the commercial potential in the project and helped the team develop their idea further. He says, “I would like to thank ABI and UniServices for encouraging students to become future entrepreneurs. There are already many successful spin-out companies and the entrepreneurial culture there is awesome!”

“I have always been interested in applied and translational research because I want to put my innovative work in the community and see people using it to improve their quality of life,” says Mehrdad. So, he took courses in entrepreneurship while completing his PhD and participated in Velocity (then, Spark) entrepreneurship competitions and events to further learn how to commercialise his research. He says, “I learned a lot from Spark workshops. They enabled me to upskill myself particularly in finance, business plan writing, marketing, and project and time management. Furthermore, I met many amazing people and learned a lot from them. We are still connected and occasionally share our gained knowledge.”

A key take out from Velocity for Mehrdad was the importance of having a well rounded team to support your idea. “As an engineer and researcher, I came to realise that raising money, managing operations, marketing, and business development are just as important as R&D and the technology itself. Do good quality research and then find people who can help you with other aspects of entrepreneurship. If you are a University of Auckland student, take part in Velocity. Their workshops are great for learning the basics of entrepreneurship as well as expanding your network. You will meet remarkable people who could be your future co-founders!”


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