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Objective Acuity was one of four innovative Kiwi businesses benefiting from the Spark 5G Starter Fund earlier this year. That funding gave new impetus to the company’s goal of democratising vision screening for younger children by the end of 2021.

On May 6th at Spark City, the four winners of the Spark 5G Starter Fund put their game-changing technology prototypes to the test in front of assembled media representatives, to demonstrate how 5G technology can bring positive outcomes to businesses and communities across New Zealand.

For Objective Acuity the Starter Fund Winners Showcase was a chance to demonstrate its ground-breaking suite of software-based vision screening and acuity[1] tests that are more accessible and accurate for detecting vision problems in younger children.

5G technology enables the accuracy to be improved further, and makes testing up to seven times more efficient through a real-time result.

We saw that real-time result in action through a quick, unobtrusive simulated classroom test.

There were two tests displayed. The first was a ‘pass or fail’ vision screening on a tablet, as demonstrated on the day to the media. All the little girl had to do was look at a moving image on a portable iPad Pro tablet for the remote tester to determine her quality of vision.

The other test was a 27-inch display desktop system which provides different sizes and levels of testing. This test provides a precise level of visual acuity, just like a traditional letter-chart.

The Objective Acuity test doesn’t even require a verbal response from children – instead it simply utilises 4G and 5G-enabled technologies to reduce the number of false positive tests that are referred through the healthcare system.

But such advancements in technology do not happen overnight. Objective Acuity’s CEO Adam Podmore tells me that it has taken ten years of R&D, and a large number of backers, to get to this stage of development.

The key players in getting Objective Acuity underway five years ago were the founders from The University of Auckland – doctors Jason Turuwhenua, Mehrdad Sangi and Ben Thompson.

“Jason and Mehrdad, as bioengineers, developed the base algorithm to measure childrens’ head and eye movements,” explains Adam. “They also developed the algorithm to detect the presence or absence of optokinetic nystagmus (OKN) – the involuntary eye movement we’re looking to induce.”

The three founders also developed the novel stimulus that induces OKN to measure visual acuity accurately, Adam says, while Ben also provided clinical and scientific optometry expertise and networks to the company.

Auckland UniServices has been supportive through the commercialisation process, he adds.

“The biggest barrier to where we have got to today was access to early-stage capital in the deep-technology and health space in New Zealand. The good news is access to capital is really improving and New Zealand is making good progress in this area.”

Adam says the 5G Starter Fund has given Objective Acuity a head start. “This was a massive driver for innovation and allowed us to accelerate the development of a new solution, so we could create a shorter vision test and develop our AI framework for the future.”

He says once 5G is rolled out nationwide the efficiency and accuracy of their acuity test will be majorly increased. “The fund has enabled us to innovate more and think very differently about how our test will look in the future.”


Teamwork makes the dream work

Adam puts the commercial success of Objective Acuity down to the calibre of the people involved in the company. It’s important to have a cross-discipline and diverse team with each individual bringing different skills and attributes to the table, he says.

“Having supportive and experienced investors who can strategically help the company through all the stages of development and then to market is crucial. These people are invaluable for avoiding the typical pitfalls startups fall into.”

Clinical trials for the Objective Acuity technology are already underway in the US, involving collaborators and leading clinical experts in ophthalmology and children’s vision science.

“That’s been really beneficial as it benefits the validation of the products in the US market and around the world,” explains Adam. “We’ve been fortunate to work with some great Key Opinion Leaders in the United States, across paediatric ophthalmology and optometry, who have great experience in developing new technology.

“As we move forward we’ll be seeking partners to work with to enter the US and other markets.”

Adam says the plan is to go to market from the end of this year – launching in the US and New Zealand simultaneously. “In the next five years we aim to have generated more than $100 million in revenue and disrupted the way vision testing is undertaken, especially in young children and those who cannot undertake existing visual acuity tests.”

And there is even more potential for Objective Acuity’s vision screening and acuity tests with the recent announcement of a partnership with US biotech company Regenxbio.

“It is great to see the technology being used to measure vision in children with Batten disease[2]. “Their vision is severely changed because of their disease,” says Adam. “We are providing an easy way to measure vision in these children, which has previously been almost impossible.

“This is another fantastic example of how our test can make a difference in the world.”


Story by Glenn Baker. This story was also published in the August 2021 issue of NZBusiness.

[1] Keenness of vision

[2] Batten disease is a rare group of nervous system disorders called neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCLs) that get worse over time.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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