By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
Augmented Reality, the interactive combination of real and computer generated worlds, has been around for a while. AR technologies superimpose a computer-generated text, image, or sound on the view of the real world.
If you have pointed your iPhone camera at the night sky to see the names of the constellations superimposed on the image of the stars, or used the IKEA app “Place” to see how a blue chair would look in your own living room, or watched the gamers in your family play Pokémon GO or Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, you have experienced AR first-hand.
With these and numerous other smart phone apps, AR has worked its way into our everyday lives, but the real power of AR goes far beyond retail apps and games.
One of the most exciting AR inventions I have encountered comes from Ocutrx Vision Technologies, an advanced research and development manufacturer. Ocutrx has developed Oculenz, an advanced AR platform and ARwear Glasses to help low-vision patients who are impacted by advanced age-related macular degeneration see again.
Causing vision loss in an estimated 190 million people, AMD is a leading cause of irreversible blindness and visual impairment in the world today. For Ocutrx CEO Michael Freeman, tackling AMD is personal. His father, Richard Freeman, a veteran, lost his vision due to AMD.
In the 1990s, Richard C. Freeman, a former brigadier general in the Oklahoma National Guard, had purchased a computer company, which he grew to be one of the largest suppliers of computer products to the State of California.
“My brother and I grew up building, shipping, and installing computers for our dad,” Freeman said.
Together the three, with another associate, were the first to come up with streaming mobile video. The technology garnered the Freemans two Emmy Awards for technology contributions to the television industry. Between them, the two Freeman brothers now hold more than 60 patents.
“Our dad had retired but he was still active in several companies when he contracted AMD,” Freeman said. “He couldn’t see people’s faces or read his emails. He had to quit driving. He gathered us together and said, ‘This is making me withdraw from life. We invented mobile video and revolutionized the world once. We can do it again to fix the problems of this disease.’”
And that’s exactly what the Freemans did. When their father wore an early version of the glasses they had invented, it changed his life. You have to start a company, he told his sons. We have to get this out.
“We lost our father in 2014,” Freeman said, “But we are doing what he wanted us to do.”
The Oculenz is wearable technology; the current version fits over AMD patients’ glasses allowing them to watch TV, read, and see people’s faces again. Having proven the patented technology in a prototype, the Oculenz platform and glasses are in final development and testing.
“When we go through testing with AMD test patients,” Freeman said, “There are tears in the testing room because subjects who haven’t read for years instantly begin to read and see faces again. We have an impressive International Medical Advisory Board who have joined us because of the improved patient impact the Oculenz will have.”
The Ocutrx team in Tulsa is doing something that has never been done before, helping AMD patients see again. That’s not just a case of Augmented Reality — it’s a case of restoring hope and changing lives.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at [email protected]