Share |

Smartphones bring eye care to developing countries

Each day over a million new cell phones are activated. By some estimates, nearly 2 billion smartphones will be in use worldwide when 2013 draws to a close. From predicting climate to helping fight HIV/AIDS, smartphone technology certainly lives up to its name. What if your smartphone could also diagnose vision problems?

The Netra-G prototype attached to a smartphone. Image courtesy MIT Media Lab and Andy Ryan.

Visual impairment afflicts an estimated 285 million people worldwide. About 90% of those sufferers live in developing countries, where optometrists are few and far between. Without access to adequate eye care, many are forced to live with poor vision, which often creates an unfortunate domino effect. If you can't see well, education can be difficult, which can lead to struggles with job prospects and employment. This spells poverty for many in developing countries, leaving them stuck in a vicious loop where prosperity is often perpetually out of reach.

While studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, programmer Vitor Pamplona developed a prototype device to diagnose vision problems. His inexpensive clip-on eyepiece for a smartphone, when used with an associated software application, can diagnose and provide prescription data for glasses to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism – the causes of 43% of the global population's vision problems.

Known as Netra-G (netra means ‘eye’ in Sanskrit), the eyepiece costs only a dollar or two to make. It can then be easily and cheaply distributed to developing countries, for use by anyone with a smartphone. A person without access to proper eye care could self-diagnose using Netra-G, then order glasses online for less than the price of paying for an eye exam and prescription (which can run from $50 to $150, plus the price of glasses).

“We’re changing medicine by providing the user the right to measure themselves,” Pamplona says. “We see doctors as more of a coach.” Netra-G is currently being tested in India. The eyepiece cannot, however, replace an optometrist entirely. Optometrists treat overall eye health and handle more complex diagnoses.


- Amanda Aubuchon

Your rating: None Average: 4 (2 votes)


Post new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.