Smartphones and tablets are transforming the future of health care. Can we really trust them to save lives?
The average auto refractor–that clunky-looking device eye doctors use to pinpoint your prescription–weighs about 40 pounds, costs $10,000, and is virtually impossible to find in a rural village in the developing world. As a result, some half a billion people are living with vision problems, which make it tough to read and work.
Ramesh Raskar knew fixing this problem would be tricky. It required a new way of thinking about eye tests–and a new kind of device, one powerful enough to support high-resolution visuals, cheap enough to scale, and simple enough to be used by just about anyone. The MIT professor briefly toyed with stand-alone options, which were complicated and costly. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out an unexpected savior: his iPhone.
“The displays had gotten so good, thanks to people wanting to watch episodes of Lost in high definition,” Raskar recalls. “I was immediately energized.”
By creating an app and attachment for the popular smartphone, Raskar could tap into a huge existing user base and skirt millions in distribution and manufacturing costs. The result: a plastic clip-on eyepiece that uses an on-screen visual test to determine a patient’s “refractive error” (a number doctors then use to dole out prescriptions). When his startup, EyeNetra, begins market testing later this year in Brazil, India, and Mexico–and eventually in the U.S.–its tech will deliver all the functionality of an optometrist’s costly machine for less than $30.
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