What happens when you lose your glasses in a country where you don’t speak the language? I got to find out first hand when I dropped my glasses in a lake during a recent trip to China, and the experience drove home a few points. First is: cabbies are the key to the city in Hangzhou. But the second and more important point is that glasses are a luxury.
It might sound stupid but, because I’ve had glasses since I was 4, I’ve never really considered what life might be like without them. Yet the WHO reports that there are roughly 1 billion people worldwide with poor eyesight that could be corrected if only they had access to basic corrective lenses. The few hours I spent without my glasses trying to communicate, hunting for help made it quite clear how debilitating untreated vision impairment can be.
That’s why I was stunned to discover the U-Specs project (thanks houtlust), which aims to radically reduce the cost of improved eyesight in the developing world. U-Specs are glasses designed to be adjusted by non-experts (the wearer) until improved vision is achieved. The design can correct eye disorders from -6 to 3 diopters, which corrects for 90% of refractive vision errors; not as good as real glasses, but far better than nothing. So, U-Specs increase access to improved vision by removing the need for a professional optician to fit the glasses. They also improve access through price, with an estimated cost of 4 euros.
As a computer scientist at a time when there’s so much focus on innovations in computing technology (from next-gen game consoles to endless web 2.0 gadgets to the mit laptop), it’s good to be brought back to earth and reminded that, to a great many, innovations in non-computing technology matter more.