Magic Leap announced Tuesday that it was giving four healthcare partners early access to its next-gen augmented reality headset, including neurotechnology company SyncThink. With the new partnership, the company is interested in targeting vestibular disorders, which cause dizziness, SyncThink chief clinical officer Scott Anderson told The Verge.
SyncThink has been collaborating with Magic Leap for a few years, Anderson says. Now, it’s expanding that relationship to bring Magic Leap 2 into the neurological health space and collaborate on clinical studies, he says. SyncThink already has FDA clearance for an eye-tracking VR device that helps diagnose concussions. Changes in eye movements are also linked to vestibular disorders.
The upgrades to the camera and sensors in the Magic Leap 2 headset let SyncThink flag abnormal eye movements that could cause or worsen dizziness, Anderson says. “We need high fidelity cameras and sensors that can track at a medical-grade level, not a consumer-grade level,” he says. That affects the accuracy of the tools SyncThink is able to build. The company is initially working on tools that could diagnose vestibular conditions, but Anderson says he thinks they could eventually develop VR-based treatments for those disorders, as well.
Digital tools that treat diseases are becoming more common, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their adoption. Early in the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relaxed some guidelines, which gave patients more access to products under development. Magic Leap’s announcement and its new relationships with healthcare companies come on the heels of first-of-their-kind FDA authorizations for VR-based therapeutics this fall: one to treat lazy eye in children and a second for chronic pain.
More and more virtual and augmented reality companies like Magic Leap are moving toward healthcare as part of that digital health trend, Anderson says. And that’s made it easier for companies like SyncThink to find the hardware they need to develop new tools. Over the past five or so years, many VR equipment manufacturers have started to move away from gaming and esports and toward industries like healthcare or the military (which Magic Leap says it’s also interested in). The companies interested in healthcare have started paying attention to the types of features important for medical applications and incorporating those features into their devices, he says.
“Even going back five years, we were having to go buy off-the-shelf VR devices and send them to Germany and have infrared sensors put in,” Anderson says. “Now, everyone is learning really quickly the importance of specific types of features that appeal to sectors like healthcare.”