A vision-impaired 6-year-old Australian girl can now see because of this VR invention

The Samsung-IrisVision virtual reality system for vision-impaired people. (Source: IrisVision)

Six-year-old Sydney girl Sora Wong was born with vision impairment that only allows her to see clearly if her eyes are within centimetres of the object.

But a new headset system now allows her the kind of vision her parents once only dreamed she’d ever be capable of.

Samsung Australia has teamed with Vision Australia and software firm IrisVision to release a new virtual reality-based device that allows vision-impaired people to see.

“She’s [now] able to read something on a whiteboard,” Sora’s father Edmund told Business Insider.

“She can watch TV from the back of the couch, as opposed to just by herself right at the front.”

The IrisVision software, which runs on a Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone inserted into a Gear VR headset, magnifies objects to allow the user to see near, middle-distance or long-distance objects.

The system focuses automatically and provides a field of view up to 70 degrees, enabling vision-impaired people to perform tasks like reading, writing and viewing family photos.

Vision Australia chief executive Ron Hooton said the $4,000 system could make “a substantial difference to the quality of life” to vision-impaired Australians.

“It helps enhance the remaining sight of people with a range of conditions, allowing them to carry out every day activities that others take for granted,” he said.

“Vision Australia supports people living with low vision to become fully independent.”

The IrisVision system is suitable for people with low vision caused by macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetes-related conditions, and stroke and neurological conditions.

The device has also helped Sora, who can only make out objects when they are 23 times closer than a person with normal vision, with education, as computers are used both at school and for homework.

“She [previously] had to have her nose right up against the screen. And now she can sit right back and use the Mac in a more comfortable position,” her father Edmund said.

The IrisVision software was developed in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins optical clinic and allows the user to control magnification levels and switch between different viewing modes suitable for specific purposes like line reading.

Samsung Australia business and enterprise mobility vice president Steven Sherry said his company was excited to bring the device into Australia, to be sold through Vision Australia.

“This project is a great example of how technology can genuinely impact someone’s life.”

While admitting the Samsung-IrisVision system is not “a permanent solution”, Edmund Wong told Business Insider that it’s a tool that’s had an immediate impact on his daughter.

“I honestly wouldn’t have seen this coming. We’d been looking for solutions — something to help her out – since birth, pretty much. We’d been looking at all sorts of stuff… new surgery techniques and stuff like that.”

And the next step for Sora is to try the headset outdoors.

“When we go to the zoo, we [previously] had to take photos of the animals and show her on the phone… Now we could just pull [the headset] out and she can see them for herself, that’s something we hope to do.”

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