General Cognitive Assessment Of The Brain In Seven Minutes

React Neuro, a startup founded three years ago by veterans of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), wants to analyze how healthy your brain is.

Rudy Tanzi, a well-known Alzheimer’s disease researcher and professor of neurology at HMS and MGH, started the company in 2017 with Brian Nahed, a neurosurgical oncologist specializing in brain tumors and associate program director of neurosurgery at MGH and HMS. The two had worked with the NFL for years — Tanzi as a brain-health advisor to the New England Patriots, Nahed as a neurotrauma consultant for the league — and wanted to focus on the issue of concussions in football players. Specifically, they wanted to take a scientific approach to figuring out when a player could safely return to the sport following a concussion. The startup has evolved since then to take a holistic look at brain health through AI software and a VR headset.

From a consumer health standpoint, the idea is essentially [that by] using software, we can assess people’s brain health and provide feedback on what’s working and what’s not working,” said React Neuro CEO Shahid Azim, who joined the company in early 2019. “What really got me interested was not so much the concussion use case, but the more fundamental question that the team was looking to ask, which was, ‘Is there a better way to measure your brain health?’”

React Neuro answers that question with digital exams administered through a custom VR headset, which is developed by Pico Interactive in San Francisco. Designed based on the tools, techniques and exams traditionally used to assess neurological conditions, the tests return results that the startup’s AI software turns into actionable insights for physicians.

Azim, a 2009 MIT Sloan School of Management grad, calls the brain assessments via headsetdigital exams,” or “experiences on screen.” The exams, he said, can last anywhere from two and a half minutes to 10 minutes, depending on the use case. A general cognitive assessment typically lasts seven minutes.

We’re using eye tracking and voice analysis [for the exams],” Azim said. “In some cases, they’re voice-based, so you’re asked to repeat something that you see on the screen.


VR Headset The Size Of A Pair Of Large Sunglasses

For all the advancements in virtual reality technology in recent years, one major factor still holding the space back is the size and relative discomfort of current headset design. Even the most compact and comfortable VR headsets today still resemble something like a cross between ski goggles and a motorcycle helmet, requiring massive headstraps to secure a heavy display that protrudes multiple inches away from the face. Reference designs for “eyeglasses” style VR displays help a bit, but they still look like coke-bottle spectacles from a steampunk cosplay event (and provide a limited field of view, to boot).

Now, researchers at Facebook Reality Labs are using holographic film to create a prototype VR display that looks less like ski goggles and more like lightweight sunglasses. With a total thickness less than 9mm—and without significant compromises on field of view or resolution—these displays could one day make today’s bulky VR headset designs completely obsolete. In the newly published ACM Siggraph paper Holographic Optics for Thin and Lightweight Virtual Reality, researchers Andrew Maimone and Junren Wang detail the optics behind their lightweight prototype. The key to the thinness is a series of flat, polarized films that use a “pancake opticslight-folding technique to reflect the displayed image multiple times in a small space. That design effectively extends the apparent focal length of the image (which is key to user eye comfort) without the need for a large physical space for the light to travel through. Holographic films used to focus the image onto the eye also eliminate the need for the kinds of bulky refractive lensing systems found in current headsets.