Floreo News

Virtual Reality For Autism Begins to Hit Its Stride

By Vijay | May 28, 2024

"A niche within a niche", that was what a venture capitalist told me in 2018 when I gave the elevator pitch for Floreo in a literal elevator at the very first HLTH health tech conference. I interpreted the off-the-cuff remark as a dismissal that the neurodiverse community was too small to justify real innovative technology solutions, and even if they did, that immersive technologies like virtual reality were unlikely to reach any meaningful scale. Fast forward to 2024 with 32K therapy lessons delivered through Floreo in the past year, and I am happy I was undeterred at that moment. 

Today, we as a society have come so far in understanding the important and urgent need to support and enable the neurodiverse in every way possible. Meanwhile, three of the biggest tech companies –  Meta, Apple, and Bytedance – are ambitiously building products and ecosystems for competing visions of immersive computing. And this is happening in a moment with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), that rivals the beginning of the Internet and mobile computing. So, far from being a “niche” play in a tiny market, Floreo has grown into a robust technology solution that services a large and growing market.

For the neurodiverse, awareness and more importantly, societal acceptance have expanded exponentially, exemplified in TV shows like Atypical and Love on the Spectrum, to public figures identifying as neurodiverse. And there's a growing consensus that one-size-fits-all products don't work in the healthcare or the education setting. 

The pathway to reaching scale

For Floreo, the first comprehensive virtual reality skill-building platform for the neurodiverse, it has translated into continuing to invest in FDA regulatory approval to open the broadest forms of access and affordability. We're proud of achieving FDA Breakthrough Device status and excited about this year reaching full market access as a treatment. Since our founding, we now reach over 100 healthcare providers and 50 school districts, the latter thanks in large part to our partnership with Meta and our ongoing headset donation options for schools.

As we build the case for efficacy and broader institutional support for Floreo, virtual reality as a medium is having a day. Not only has Meta continued to innovate with new products like the Quest 3, but even more impressive is to see the falling price of the Quest 2, now at $200. In 2018, when that VC dismissed Floreo, an equivalent VR experience would have required a $800+ VR system and a $1200+ PC. Costs have literally come down by an order of magnitude. And on the other end of the spectrum (no pun intended) is Apple Vision Pro, creating a premium experience that also blends augmented and virtual reality in a new and exciting way. Its price, over $3500, affirms Floreo's mission for FDA approval and opening up reimbursement as some of the best future solutions to foster access to required hardware that may be out of the reach of a consumer. 

The convergence of VR innovation with the needs of the neurodiverse community

The new technology in Vision Pro, along with Meta Quest Pro and Bytedance’s Pico Neo 3 Pro, point to a very near future where retinal level eye tracking is common across headsets. Eyegaze tracking holds great promise if deployed with clinical grade privacy controls to create new forms of diagnostics, assessments, and treatments. And this is why Floreo earlier this year acquired Autism Eyes from Cleveland Clinic

Our experience as a leader in this space tells us that solutions have to be convenient and have a critical mass of utility. As Meta, Apple, and Pico innovate on immersive technology, our customers need solutions that address a wide enough aperture that makes it worthwhile to make changes to their existing workflows –  be it at a clinic, school, or in a family home. We are excited to share more about how we are integrating the Autism Eyes technology into Floreo products later this year.

AI enters the space

The trends in neurodiversity and immersive technology are happening at a key moment as we all integrate a future with pervasive AI. For Floreo, we believe it is important to understand what AI can and cannot do. AI cannot substitute for the judgment and ethics of the autistic community. AI cannot replace the years of training and caseloads of skilled professionals. Nor can it replace the unique bond and intuition of loving parents. 

Yet we also know that harnessing AI in the right way can do great things for our community, and  we are actively working on this now.. We believe AI can change the virtual reality medium and how we build our solutions for the neurodiverse. For instance, AI can infuse more dynamic and effective conversational characters as showcased in our Marcy demo as heard on NPR

With AI, we can bring down the cost of new 3D art and character development, and look to create exciting new ways for environments to be tailored to heighten the learning outcomes such as being able to instantly modify a Floreo street crossing lesson to leverage the cars and background environment to match  a specific community. Parents of neurodiverse children and providers alike are familiar with voluminous write-ups like a neuropsych report or individualized education plan, or smaller progress summaries from individual therapists, and we can now see a near future where those can be uploaded somewhere, interpreted, and actualized into something valuable like building a sample treatment plan or organizing a slate of lessons within Floreo that can maximize minutes in therapy. So with proper guardrails (always!), AI holds great promise for the community whom we serve.

Six years since our founding, Floreo has made significant progress introducing our once-exotic and now state-of-the-art technology to therapists, educators, families and most importantly neurodiverse learners. We see the next 12 months as a period of steep gains in solutions for the neurodiverse community, and Floreo is proud to be part of that story. 

About the Author


Inspired by his experience as an autism father and his child’s first experience with VR, Vijay Ravindran founded Floreo. Vijay started his career as an engineer and leader at Amazon in its early retail days before dedicating himself to impact-oriented leadership opportunities that have taken him from building key voter technology used by the Obama campaign in 2008 to Chief Digital Officer at The Washington Post Company. Vijay lives in Washington DC with his wife, two Star Wars obsessed kids, and hundreds of Transformers robots which he doesn’t let his kids play with. Outside of work, when he’s not rooting on his beloved Oklahoma Sooners, you can find him on the tennis courts.