App trains your brain to dispense with reading glasses

Israel’s GlassesOff, whose exercises aim to lower ‘vision-age,’ has just reached 1 million global users

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

The GlassesOff app on mobile phones (Courtesy)
The GlassesOff app on mobile phones (Courtesy)

If you are over 40, squint while reading your paper in the morning or scramble for your reading glasses while checking out the menu at a dimly lit restaurant, then you may want to try out a mobile app that promises you will do away with your reading glasses within three months.

Tel Aviv-based GlassesOff’s patented technology, when tested by the University of Berkeley in California, was proved to have a success rate of over 90 percent in users who qualified and were dependent on reading glasses, the company said.

After using the app, “vision-age” is reduced on average by 8.6 years, a study showed. A recent placebo study also proved the app’s efficacy, and it was also tested on Israeli air force pilots in 2014. An English version of the app was launched in 2014 and a French version followed last year.

The app has just reached 1 million users globally.

After a quick test to assess your vision — in which users are asked to identify the direction of an E-looking letter a number of times and quickly click on the right answer — the app assesses your suitability to the program. If you are deemed suitable, the app sets out your training program, which aims to retrain your brain, whose image processing capacity diminishes with age. Whereas traditional vision improvement strategies have focused on the eye and involve glasses or invasive procedures, GlassesOff focuses on the brain, where image processing occurs.

The GlassesOff app for mobile phones (Courtesy)
The GlassesOff app for mobile phones (Courtesy)

By doing 10-minute sessions three days a week for a period of two to three months, you are likely to do away with your dependency on reading glasses, said Nastassja Kern, head of business development at the startup.

“We will tell you from the start what your expectations should be from the program,” she said.

The exercises are like a game: they require users to search for Gabor Patches, black-gray and white stripes shown at different speeds and different levels of sharpness and sizes within small circles. You click on yes or no according to what you see.

Training with Gabor Patches has been scientifically recognized as the best way to stimulate the cells of the visual cortex in the brain, Kern said. The exercises get harder as you progress, with the app automatically adjusting the exercises to your ongoing performance.

The app, which is available for iOS and Android devices, costs 10 euros for a one-month training plan, and 25 euros for the three-month plan, which is the most recommended, Kern said.

InnoVision Labs Inc., a visual neuroscience technology company whose shares are traded over the counter in the US, is the holding company that owns the patents behind the app. Prof. Uri Polat, a professor of Clinical and Visual Neuroscience and head of Optometry and Vision Science at Bar-Ilan University, is InnoVision’s co-founder and chief scientific officer.

GlassesOff is looking for additional funding and partners to expand its activities, Kern said. More languages will be added in the longer term, and new applications of the technology could be developed, she said, including perhaps reducing attention deficit disorders as well as eye diseases like glaucoma and amblyopia, or lazy eye.

“The logic is the same, but the algorithm and the app would be different,” Kern said.

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