DIY Eyeglasses, a 20/20 Prescription for the Developing World

Jun 1, 2011
Inventor Josh Silver models his DIY eyeglasses during his 2009 TED Talk. (Photo: TED Talks)

Six hundred seventy million people around the world lack access to vision correction and around 100 million children don’t have access to basic eyecare, reports Big Think.

Fortunately, Oxford University atomic physicist Josh Silver has seen a solution to this global problem: low-cost, self-adjustable eyeglasses that allow people to manually change their prescription without having to wait for an optometrist.

Silver began tinkering with his DIY eyeglasses in 1985. "I was curious. I did it for fun," Silver told The Guradian.

Today, the glasses are made of “adaptive lenses” consisting of two film membranes separated by silicone gel. By pumping gel into the glasses using a syringe-like removable attachment, the prescription is manually adjusted. The amount of fluid affects the curvature of the lens.

“We call this process self-refraction,” Silver explained to The Guardian. "It offers enormous potential for use in the developing world. We have already supplied 40,000 of these glasses to individuals in 20 countries."

Silver is now the director of Oxford’s Centre for Vision in the Developing World. His goal is to reduce the cost of the self-adjustable glasses to make them accessible to people in developing countries. Currently, the current cost is about $19 per pair. Though this may seem affordable, Silver's goal is to serve populations who live on about $1 per day. He hopes to be able to provide the glasses for $1.

Silver recently entered into a partnership with the World Bank and the Dow Corning Corporation. Together, they have set an ambitious goal: to distribute 200 million glasses to schoolchildren in Africa and Asia.

Ultimately, Silver hopes that one billion self-adjustable glasses will be distributed across the globe, providing educational and job opportunities for visually-impaired individuals in the developing world.

Two weeks ago Josh Silver was shortlisted for a 2011 European inventor award at a ceremony in Budapest. The ceremony was organized by the European Patent Office and the European Union to highlight the work that European scientists should be undertaking.

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