Can a simple app really give you superhero sight?

Researchers from the University of California at Riverside say playing their Ultimeyes game could dramatically increase your vision. Crave's Michael Franco goes eyeballs-on.

UCR Baseball
UCR baseball players have a distinct edge thanks to a new app developed by university researchers. Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET

Crazy-good vision sounds like something a character in a game might possess. But a researcher at the University of California at Riverside has invented an app that promises to bestow users with the gift of super-sight -- in real life.

Aaron Seitz, a UCR professor of psychology and developer of the Ultimeyes app, along with several colleagues, just published research in the journal Current Biology indicating that baseball players who used the Ultimeyes app for 30 25-minute sessions were able to improve their vision by an average of 31 percent. That's impressive enough, but what's truly amazing is that some players saw their vision go beyond normal 20/20 to 20/7.5, meaning they could see at 20 feet what someone with normal vision couldn't see beyond 7.5 feet.

The best part of the news? While the researchers tested the app on baseball players, who can obviously benefit from being able to see a flyball clearly, anyone can download and use the app by visiting the Ultimeyes Web site, which I did.

Just enter your details and pay $5.99, and you'll be sent a link to download the app either for a Mac, PC, or iPad. Start up the app and you'll be asked if you want to improve your vision for reading, writing, or any other activity within 5 feet, or if you'd prefer to work on longer-distance vision such as that required while driving or watching TV.

I chose the long-distance option because it just seems like it would be super cool to be able to zoom in -- a la Steve Austin -- to the guitar player's fingers at the next concert I attend.

Next, the app has you measure and enter the horizontal width of your computer monitor. I had a hard time seeing the numbers on the ruler, but I got there eventually. Finally, you're asked to sit 5 feet from your screen, which might be tough because you also need to use your mouse to work the app. My wireless magic mouse came in handy.

Gameplay consists of clicking a series of targets that look like stuff you'd see on a microscope slide. Seitz told Crave these barely visible blobs are called Gabors.

"The game consists of clicking patterns called Gabors as they are made more and more difficult to see by reducing their luminance contrast," he said. "These Gabors are derived from the patterns of light that we know optimally stimulate neurons in the visual cortex of the brain, and the idea is to exercise these neurons and make them perform better." Seitz says this approach is different from many vision-enhancing programs because instead of training the ocular muscles, it actually trains the brain. "Our integrated training program is unique in that we focus on training the brain to better respond to the input it receives from the eyes," he said.

Ultimeyes
It might not look like much, but Ultimeyes promises to give you better vision. Ultimeyes

Sometimes you're required to clear the screen of all the insidious little Gabors, while other times, you click them as they appear, Whack-A-Mole style. I found the game oddly addicting, but while my vision might have been improving, my clicker finger was quickly cramping. Ah well, what's a little carpal tunnel syndrome in exchange for superhuman vision?

I didn't make it to the end of the game (I had an article to write after all!), but the researchers say that if you can give it 25 minutes four times per week for eight weeks, your vision will definitely get better.

We'll "see."

It certainly appeared to work for the UCR baseball players. In addition to being able to see an additional two lines on eye charts, the study says the 19 participants who trained with Ultimeyes on average had 4.4 fewer strikeouts than their 18 non-trained teammates. Plus, the team itself went on to score 41 more runs than projected for the season.

If you're not sure you want to plunk down $5.99 in exchange for "Six Million Dollar Man"-like vision, here's a little video that tells you more about the research...

 

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