Facebook Reality Labs Taps Optometry For Innovation

Dr. Erkelens tells us about the innovative technologies being developed at Facebook Reality Labs.

Cara Moore: Hi everybody. Thanks for joining us here on Optometry TV, I’m Cara Moore joined now by Dr. Ian Erkelens who is a Research Scientist at Facebook Reality Labs.

Dr. Ian Erkelens: Yes I am.

Cara Moore: Thanks for being here.

Dr. Ian Erkelens: Thanks for having me.

Cara Moore: Okay. So first of all, tell us a little bit about how you got to Facebook Reality Labs.

Dr. Ian Erkelens: It’s a little bit of an interesting story. I was practicing optometry full time just North of Toronto for about seven years. Wasn’t convinced that I wanted to do that for the next 30 years of my life and I was looking for a little bit of a different challenge. And one day, front page in the newspaper was Facebook bought Oculus Virtual Reality, and I realized at that point that virtual reality was going to become the future and there was definitely going to be a need for optometry’s input and vision science input into the design of these head mounted displays. And so, I went back and did a PhD, dropped everything and decided I was just going to go back to school full time. I moved my family, went back to school, and then at the end of my PhD, ironically enough, there was a position available, right time, right place at Facebook Reality Labs for a Vision Scientist. And that’s where I ended up. So now I’m in Seattle and full time with Facebook Reality Labs.

Cara Moore: So, tell us a little bit about what your team does.

Dr. Ian Erkelens: So, the goal of our team, it’s a team of Perceptual Scientists and Vision Scientists. And the job really is to define the limits of the human visual system perceptually so that we can make our products as immersive and as real as possible. And so by getting a deeper understanding of the human visual system, we can work around hardware and software limitations to give the most immersive, most comfortable, most visually compelling experience to the user.

Cara Moore: So how’s what you and your team are doing, how is that all affecting the optometry industry directly?

Dr. Ian Erkelens: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think even at Academy right now, you can see there’s, there’s two applications, software applications that have been designed on our platforms that are actually really fantastic. So the first is, some vision rehabilitation software for things like traumatic brain injury, for binocular vision disorders, that’s been developed on these platforms, that’s actually a lot easier to do for things like at home therapy or in office therapy than potentially actually having to do it in a, in a huge room. And then the second application, which is actually a very, very easy and straightforward application is the movement of visual field testing away from a very large instrument that is quite difficult for elderly patients to physically get into. Especially if they’re not ambulatory and stuck in a bed, you can put this into a head mounted display, they can be supine, they can be laid down, and you can actually get a lot more reliable data and potentially have¬† at home monitoring as well. So we don’t build that software, but we build the platform that enables the designers to actually build these things. And I, I think that those are just two very, very basic examples of what VR can actually do for Optometry in the future. And it’s, as the displays get better, the applications are just going to continue to grow. And it’s really exciting.

Cara Moore: You think it’s an exciting time in the industry?

Dr. Ian Erkelens: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the convincing point of going back into to research, to look at VR was the fact that there was, there was a huge investment into these, these startups that really convinced me that, okay, there are a lot of problems and a lot of challenges that we’re going to have to overcome to make these devices something that people want to use every day. But with that investment and that time, it is only a matter of time that, that technology evolves and develops and starts to just become something that, like your TV, that everybody has in their house every day. And like I said, the clinical applications are, I don’t even think we understand what we can potentially do with these platforms. And so it’s exciting to be part of the team helping design and build these things and seeing the applications that end up coming.

Cara Moore: Yes. And that may be here every day.

Dr. Ian Erkelens: Absolutely.

Cara Moore: All right, Dr. Erkelens, thanks for making time for us.

Dr. Ian Erkelens: Thank you.

Cara Moore: I appreciate it. And thanks for watching Optometry TV.

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