James-BlahaIt’s not every day that someone gains an entirely new sense, but James Blaha did just that. He created a virtual reality vision therapy experience that essentially cured his lazy eye and enabled him to see in 3D for the first time in his life. When I first interviewed James in May 2014, he was hesitant to make any claims that this was an effective treatment beyond his own personal experience, but nearly two years later James’ Vivid Vision system has shown success in other people with amblyopia and strabismus and is now located in over 20 optometrist clinics around the country.

I had a chance to catch up with James at GDC last month to get an update on the current state of VR vision therapy, how to determine whether this VR treatment might be a good fit if you have lazy eye, and where he sees Vivid Vision going in the future.

LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

At the moment, it’s only possible to get access to the Vivid Vision system at a limited number of optometrist’s offices around the country, but they’re working towards a consumer version that would allow you to do the VR treatment sessions within the comfort of your own home while still having some oversight from an optometrist. Once they’re able to launch this, then it could mark the beginning of a telemedicine revolution where remote doctors could track patient’s treatment progress based upon the data collected within a VR experience.

smi eye tracking gamepad
See Also: Hands On – SMI’s Gear VR Eye Tracking is Accurate, Fast and Lightweight

In talking with Michael Aratow of VR rehabilitation startup VRecover, he made the claim that VR will enable more personalization of medical treatments. Rather than give generic exercises for people to do own their own without much feedback, VR therapy and VR telemedicine could provide more detailed quantitative data that would enable faster feedback loop iterations and adaptable treatments that could be more specific for each patient.

My original interview with James and his story of curing his lazy eye with VR made such an impression on me that I included it within my top 10 list of Voices of VR interviews I’ve done so far. James says that VR allows us to completely control the visual input to our perceptional system, and this is enabling us to completely rewire our brains. For people with lazy eye, this has allowed them to use VR to train certain muscles in their eyes that have otherwise been dormant and unused.

For me, this demonstrates a larger principle that VR has the power to unlock latent human potentials. At this point, VR is able to strengthen capabilities that have already been proven through neuroplasticity research. But could VR also unlock capabilities that have yet to be discovered? This idea has been explored within the context of sci-fi stories like Lawnmower Man, where the protagonist uses VR to unlock psychic abilities like telekinesis. It’s also been explored by Dean Radin in his book Supernormal, which investigates scientific evidence of extraordinary mental powers that may be unlocked from doing 2,000 year-old meditation practices contained within Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

In James Blaha’s case, he used VR to train his eye to be able to see again. There were actually existing vision therapy exercises that he could have done, but they were excruciatingly tedious so he would never do them. VR has the possibility to make these types of mundane and tedious exercises fun to do, and therefore much more likely to be done, and in the end a lot more powerful and effective.

These types of VR experiences could start to cultivate a level of discipline in a range of different VR training, medical therapy, or contemplative practice applications that train our brains in new ways. Neuroscientist Aldis Sipolins warns that most existing cognitive brain training exercises have yet to be demonstrated to have transferrable benefits into our everyday lives. But with the success of James’ Vivid Vision system, then perhaps we’re just starting to see a new wave of VR applications that unlock our existing capabilities and perhaps at some point in the future start to extend our capabilities.

Become a Patron! Support The Voices of VR Podcast Patreon

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

Subscribe to the Voices of VR podcast.

This article may contain affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and buy a product we may receive a small commission which helps support the publication. See here for more information.


  • PianoMan

    Having amblyopia and strabismus (slight or greater turn in the eye), having gone through various treatments and surgeries. Having been told at 47 there is no hope of ever seeing in 3D or gaining depth perception and to always see the World flat and without depth. Knowing that there are companies like Vivid Vision, which was the first thing that turned me on about VR two years ago, in that it could help me. This is the reason I bought the Vive, in that they are developing for that too and with the consumer release of the software and the results they’ve gained so far from their tests and research. I remain hopeful, that I may eventually get to see this World like everyone else does and never have to struggle with simple things that rely on depth perception – you have no idea how hard parking is (try it with one eye, that will give some idea of what I have to try and those like me).

    • Bryan Ischo

      I sincerely hope that VR can help you. It’s my understanding that the Vivid Vision software is not available for public use but is instead licensed to optometrists. What software will you use to try to treat your condition? Are you sure that you will have everything you need?

      • PianoMan

        Thank you Bryan that’s very kind of you. I’ve been in contact with Vivid Vision in the past and they are planning to develop for the Vive too and have a consumer release of their software later this year. I’m on their list to be notified. They know I am very keen. For now I will use the vive like everyone else just I won’t get the depth everyone else does but I’m used to that. I have no idea what 3D looks like or what depth appears like in person. I’m excited in that perhaps there could be a means of me finally getting near normal sight. Having amblyopia can be very frustrating and makes anything relying on depth judgement (which is a lot of what we do) very hard and tiring.

        • Jacob Elgaard

          Hi Stu,

          If you’ve never experienced 3D vision and are curious about what it looks like, I think you should take a look at “wigglegrams”:

          http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/wigglegrams/photos

          I’ve noticed, that they give me the impression of stereoscopy even with one eye closed :-)

          • Bryan Ischo

            The weird thing is those images actually look MORE “3d” to me if I close one eye. With two eyes because both eyes see the same image a little bit of the 3d effect is lost. With just one eye I can much more easily ‘see’ the depth within the images, especially the dude with the floating pizza.

            However, after reading a bit about ambylopia, I believe that to a large degree the lack of depth perception is a brain development issue that requires lots of training to overcome. Even when depth cues are there people with this conditions cannot perceive the depth. So probably even these wiggle images, while effective for someone whose brain “knows what to look for”, are not going to demonstrate depth to someone with the condition.

            My reading would seem to indicate that it takes alot of time and effort to “coax” the brain into building up its depth perception capabilities, which is why it is so hard to treat the condition.

            I wish all of the best of luck to Stu though and I really, really hope a VR headset can help him. We should check back in with Vivid Vision and Stu in a year from now and see how things are going! Maybe an article on this site???

          • PianoMan

            Thanks Jacob and Bryan you are absolutely right. Even though it’s partly a physical issue, to compensate at an early age, the brain ignores the sight from the weaker eye and doesn’t develop the depth/3D perception – this has to be learned, some liken it to it being turned on. I can still see through my weak eye of course, but I have a very dominant left eye and the sight through my right eye with both eyes open is much like there is a fog there and my focus is in what comes from the left. It impossible I imagine for any normal sighted person to experiences, much like I don’t actually know what it’s like to experience depth and 3D, but I am so excited that it may actually be a possibility.

            I would be more than happy to write about my experiences with VR in this aspect and contribute to an article on this site, or any site for that matter. Amblyopia affects many people without others realising. It makes normal aspects of life that require spacial judgement hard and we develop ways to compensate for that. Any voice or editorial that increases the awareness of the disorder and how new technologies in the home can help, then I’m all for it.

          • PianoMan

            The above has actually made me start a blog, which I will add to frequently http://www.myrighteye.today

          • Bryan Ischo

            Cool beans. I’ll check it regularly.

  • Surykaty

    Its sad that they have not released anything for the lone consumer. Gear VR has been out there for a while. I managed to copy some of the left eye right eye techniques they use in Unity. When im finished ill happily release it for free as an unity project file so anyone can compile it for their desired platform.

    • Bryan Ischo

      I agree. Certainly the techniques used must be fairly easily reproducible and someone really ought to write some free open source software to provide this kind of treatment to everyone. I would volunteer but as usual I have too many things going on already :)

    • PianoMan

      I would be interested in your progress and software for sure.

    • Emblem14

      Hi Surykaty,

      It’s a long process to get these products institutionally validated.

      • Surykaty

        Self experimentation has been a very important tool in medicine throughout the ages. Guys, you are a commercial entity now and the whole process of releasing anything that has a sticker that says its going to have a theraupeutic effect will require it to undergo the long, expensive and certainly alot of time wasteful medical approval process. You see we dont really have time to wait.. I understand your goals and aspirations but I simply dont have time for that.

  • Jorge Curiel

    great! this can help my friend who has this condition :)

  • Sam Illingworth

    “located in over 20 optometrist clinics around the country”

    Just a suggestion – I think if you’re going to say “around the country” you should mention which country you’re in, especially when, like Road to VR, you have authors in several countries (although even if a site is only based in one coutry, it might not always be obvious to readers). Why not put it at the top of the article, after the author’s name?

  • Drakan

    :) This is awesome and I’ll be spreading the news through some oftalmologist in Brazil and Sweden.

    Good luck