Discovering an Unseen World
A conversation with Kenneth Tran, Senior Clinical Scientist/Optometrist at Mojo Vision.Mar 16, 2021
Kenneth, what do you do at Mojo Vision?
I’m one of the optometrists on the medical team at Mojo. While our engineering team creates the awesome technology that goes into the lens, I work on lens design—basically its physical shape and how it sits on the eye.
Where did you go to school, and what drew you into optometry?
I'm an alumnus of UC Berkeley for my undergraduate as well as my graduate degrees, and I did my residency training there as well; I've got blue and gold coursing through my veins! Early in my time at UC Berkeley, I was engaged in vision research. What drew me to optometry specifically is that it's a way of unlocking someone's potential through sight. Patients come to you with a problem and you give them in some cases, instantaneous results. As an optometrist, you improve how they see their world and the things around them with what may be a simple prescription.
What do you hope Mojo Lens will be able to provide to the visually impaired?
The common tools for the visually impaired haven't really changed over the years, and many electronic aids tend to be pretty bulky and oriented for home and office use, even the digital ones. When I worked at the California School for the Blind, one girl had to carry around a 15-pound electronic magnifying device. She was an amazing little girl, but the backpack that she had to carry around was as big as she was! So I’m looking forward to developing something that for patients is not just more mobile, but more flexible to meet their needs.
Mojo Vision partners with Vista Center for the Blind, and they’ve been a wonderful organization to work with and learn from. Being able to collaborate with them and support the people who are running it and utilizing their services has been remarkable. With Vista Center’s help, we're making sure we incorporate the feedback of those who are visually impaired to ensure that we're not just building something cool, but something that will be useful.
Why do you think Mojo Lens will be uniquely helpful to those with vision impairment?
Well, it's being designed to be a hands-free device. In many situations, these patients are using other tools, say a service dog, smartphone or a guide cane. Mojo Lens will give them additional visual information without needing to hold up a magnifying glass or tinker with an extra-bulky tool while trying to walk. It’ll help them interact with the things and people around them without getting in the way of the things that they're already doing.
Since you perform testing alongside low-vision patients, you’ve seen fascinating things happen. Any interesting stories?
One test we do has to do with printed texts. Reading for those with visual impairments can be a rather taxing act—it can be hard to even find your place in the document you’re looking at. In one experiment, it was very easy for the patient to finish reading the document that was in front of them.
So when they finished, they put down the sheet of paper and looked around. Since we were in the kitchen, we had a few different cans of soup and other foods, which they were able to grab and quickly identify. There was a look of surprise, even shock, that they could do that. There was a definite sense of excitement that words can’t accurately express.
What hidden potential of Mojo Lens do you want to further study and explore?
From a theoretical standpoint, what we're opening up with this really small lens that fits on the eye is an entirely new range of potential vision enhancements. There’s some truth that we won’t know what skills to tap into with patients until they use it and try it. Mojo Lens may create a new field of study within optometry, a new understanding of the eye and of vision that we're not fully aware of. It could be a paradigm shift within the visually impaired community with benefits we haven’t fully considered.