Halifax virtual reality company ramps up software testing to respond to pandemic

Ryan Cameron, CEO and founder of Electric Puppets, demonstrates his virtual reality software at the office in Halifax on April 7, 2020. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

A virtual reality (VR) company in Halifax has kicked its testing into high gear in an effort to ease some of the burden on eye care patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Electric Puppets’ software platform can replicate many of the vision and eye health tests used by optometrists and ophthalmologists. Used in homes, the company believes patients could use a VR headset to take tests, send data to their doctors, and minimize the need to visit clinics and be in close proximity with others.

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“Our initial aim was to reduce the strain on the medical system by getting people to do more at home and in their communities, without having to come all the way to the hospital all the time,” said CEO and founder Ryan Cameron.

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“The fact that the pandemic is here has accelerated certain aspects of our plan.”

The software, called Evrisia, is already up and running at the IWK Health Centre. It produces “similar or the same results” as conventional testing methods on eye charts or colour tests, said Cameron, and the company is now working with patients who have recently undergone eye surgery.

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But its applications go beyond eye care, he added.

“A lot of medical research has just stopped because of the situation, so our software can also be used to have test subjects working from home and participating in research while they’re assessed remotely,” Cameron explained.

Work to make Evrisia home-ready is ongoing. The company aims to pair it with “reasonably inexpensive” VR or phone-based applications, but ultimately hopes provincial health care will cover the costs for patients who are referred to it by their doctors.

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The goal is to have the software up and running in homes within the next few months, said Cameron, with help from the public library system.

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“They’re looking at ways to help us distribute the equipment or loan it on a temporary basis to people through their system.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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