Eyebot raised $6 million for AI-powered kiosks that offer 90-second eye exams without an optometrist

More than half of Americans wear corrective glasses or contact lenses. While there is no shortage of low-cost, luxury frames available online or in stores, consumers can only purchase them with a current eyeglass prescription.

That means they first need an eye exam from an optometrist to receive that prescription. But, due to a nationwide shortage of eye care professionals, it can take weeks, especially in rural areas, to get an appointment.

Eyebot, a new startup that went live Thursday, wants to reduce the time it takes to receive an eye exam to about 90 seconds without the direct involvement of an optometrist. Starting in October, the Boston-based company will roll out its self-service vision testing kiosks in shopping malls, grocery stores and pharmacies across New England.

Anyone who wants to have their vision checked can walk up to Eyebot’s 5-foot kiosk, press a button, and the company’s computer vision technology will automatically scan the person’s eyes, extracting the prescription for glasses or contact lenses. (While Eyebot cannot perform initial contact lens fittings, it can update an existing prescription.)

Eyebot founder and CEO Matthias Hofmann said he developed similar technology ten years ago at EyeNetra, a startup that used smartphones to test vision. (EyeNetra closed several years ago, according to Hoffman, who worked there as a lead engineer until 2015.)

“We realized that using smartphones is not really the solution,” said Hoffman, who, before joining EyeNetra, was a postdoctoral researcher in tomography at Harvard Medical School. “What people want is a fully automated experience where they don’t have to learn or do anything complicated. “Our technology now allows people to simply stand in front of our units.”

Prescriptions generated by Eyebot are finalized by telemedics within 24 hours, and consumers who want to purchase glasses at any retailer must pay $30 for the exam. But if you purchase glasses from one of Eyebot’s partner brands, the eye exam is free. (The technology is registered with the FDA, Hoffman said.)

The company hopes that major eyewear brands will rent Eyebot terminals and place them in the points of sale of their choice.. Once a shopper completes their exam, they can choose to purchase glasses from that brand directly on a touch screen inside the kiosk or using their smartphone. Eyebot plans to make money by partnering with these eyewear brands and charging a commission on each sale.

“Retailers are looking for new channels to reach customers,” Hoffman said. “Now they have the opportunity to showcase their brand at CVS, Walgreens, Stop and Shop, Kroger and on college campuses.”

Eyebot is close to finalizing partnership deals with several large eyeglass and contact lens retailers, Hoffman said. “It is a very lucrative model. The demand for what we are doing is very high.”

According to Hoffman, investment demand in Eyebot’s seed round was also high. On Thursday, the company announced a $6 million funding round led by AlleyCorpand Ubiquity Ventures with participation from Susa Ventures, Village Global, Baukunst, Ravelin and Spacecadet.

The capital will be used for expansion to different geographies.

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