Appropriate Technology: Self Adjusting Glasses

Posted on December 25, 2008  Comments (4)

Self Adjusting Glasses for 1 billion of the world’s poorest see better

What if it were possible, he thought, to make a pair of glasses which, instead of requiring an optician, could be “tuned” by the wearer to correct his or her own vision? Might it be possible to bring affordable spectacles to millions who would never otherwise have them?

More than two decades after posing that question, Josh Silver [a physics professor at Oxford] now feels he has the answer. The British inventor has embarked on a quest that is breathtakingly ambitious, but which he insists is achievable – to offer glasses to a billion of the world’s poorest people by 2020.

Some 30,000 pairs of his spectacles have already been distributed in 15 countries, but to Silver that is very small beer. Within the next year the now-retired professor and his team plan to launch a trial in India which will, they hope, distribute 1 million pairs of glasses. The target, within a few years, is 100 million pairs annually.

Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.

Oxford University, at his instigation, has agreed to host a Centre for Vision in the Developing World, which is about to begin working on a World Bank-funded project with scientists from the US, China, Hong Kong and South Africa. “Things are never simple. But I will solve this problem if I can. And I won’t really let people stand in my way.”

Cool. A couple points I would like to make:

1) this professor is making a much bigger difference in the “real world” than most people ever will. The idea that professors are all lost in insignificant “ivory towers” is a very inaccurate view of what really happens.
2) Spending money on this kind of thing seems much more important for the human race than spending trillions to bail out poor moves by bankers, financiers… It sure seems odd that we can’t find a few billion to help out people across the globe that are without basic necessities yet we can find trillions to bail out the actions of few thousand bad actors.

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4 Responses to “Appropriate Technology: Self Adjusting Glasses”

  1. Tony
    December 27th, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

    It’s always struck me as odd that after thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, the human eye rarely works perfectly. As a glasses wearer myself I applaud this invention. We all self diagnose our lens prescription anyway, albeit guided by an optician. I hope this leads to further developments that become commercially widespread.

  2. Andrew
    January 3rd, 2009 @ 12:58 am

    Well, it seems our use of the eye and our lifespan has increased much faster than it’s evolutionary necessity. Almost everything we do today (reading, skilled trades, etc.) is benefited by great vision. However in the past; as long as you were sort of close and learned how to make and recognize most things, it was good enough. This is why the eyes in birds such as eagles evolved much better than ours.

  3. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Engineering: Cellphone Microscope
    November 8th, 2009 @ 9:30 am

    (LUCAS) enables rapid counting and imaging of cells without using any lenses even within a working cell phone device…

  4. Night Vision Contact Lenses | Curious Cat Gadgets
    March 24th, 2014 @ 11:18 pm

    “If we integrate it with a contact lens or other wearable electronics, it expands your vision,” Zhong said. “It provides you another way of interacting with your environment.”

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