Bethesda start-up Righteye was born on a D.C.-area tennis court in 2011. Serial entrepreneur Adam Gross was wrapping up a rally with Melissa Hunfalvay, a former professional tennis player and coach from Australia, when a postgame chat turned to business.
Gross was in the process of selling his second company, thinking about his next act, when Hunfalvay mentioned that her PhD dissertation focused on the use of eye-tracking technology to analyze the vision patterns of tennis players.
Gross sensed the commercial potential, and together the two launched their venture. Today, their young company is attracting the attention of optometrists, the military, even the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The product they came up with is a handheld eye scanner hooked up to a computer powered by proprietary analytical software. A person taking the test looks at a small dot as it dances around the screen. The scanner tracks where the person’s eyes go and evaluates their eye movement across 35 vision tests.
Devices that track eye movements have been around for decades, and they’ve been used for a variety of purposes. Some are used for marketing research, designed to figure out how people process information presented in advertisements.
Righteye’s initial product was developed as part of a government order. The company sold several sets of eye-tracking goggles to an unnamed “military customer” from 2012 to 2014 for use as a quick, portable screening tool.
It didn’t take long for the technology to pique interest among the sports community. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed on as a customer; Pirates media representatives did not respond to requests for comment on how they plan to use the technology.
Gross said the equipment could be used to evaluate prospects.
“If I can identify [visual] strengths and weaknesses, I can decide if I want to take on those weaknesses,” Gross said. “Do I want to draft that player and invest millions of dollars?”
One of the company’s early customers is IMG Academy, a high-end training center near Tampa geared for pre-professional athletes.
David DaSilva, who runs IMG’s visual training programs, says he wants to use Righteye’s technology to “not just think about how our athletes are thinking, but also what they are seeing.”
For instance, the equipment can measure how quickly a batter can see and then react to the spin of a baseball.
DaSilva says eye-tracking technology once was accessible to only the best-funded outlets. Older models would cost tens of thousands of dollars and were too bulky to be especially useful outside a specialized lab.
Today, an eye scanner can be purchased for a few hundred dollars online. In theory, a rival company could swoop in and piece together the same components as Righteye. Gross and Hunfalvay are trying to stay ahead of the competition by patenting the analytical software that integrates their 35 tests into one report.
Gross and Hunfalvay say specialized optometrists represent their primary market, and they have signed 13 so far to monthly licenses ranging from $595 to $995. They pitch their product as a catchall diagnostic tool for spotting concussions in children, blind spots in elderly people, even attention-deficit disorder.
DeAnn Fitzgerald, a neuro-optometrist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was one of the first to sign up. Fitzgerald specializes in using vision tests to diagnose brain injury and stroke.
The ability to follow an object with the eyes and the extent to which a person’s eyes work together is a common diagnostic technique for concussions. But Fitzgerald says it can sometimes be hard to persuade patients that they have a problem.
“They might be in denial,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald says having a Righteye report makes it easier to coax patients to seek treatment.