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Will an app replace a standard eye exam?

October 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Could your cell phone be smart enough to replace your doctor? A new device could save us all time and money, but in the developing world, it could also save someone's eyesight.You name it, there's an app for that, but researchers at MIT have developed one that has the power to do more than change your Facebook status. Soon, the standard exam may be a thing of the past, thanks to NETRA, "Near Eye Tool For Refractive Assessment."

"You can think of this device as a thermometer for your eye. It will measure what is wrong with your eyes, and then you might provide that data to a doctor who will provide glasses," said Ramesh Raskar of MIT Media Lab.

The patient looks through a four-dimensional eyepiece that clips onto the cell phone's screen. Then they use the narrow keys to move sets of parallel green and red lines until they overlap.

"The number of steps it takes for the patient to align the lines indicates to us nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism," said Raskar.

Those refractive errors are the second-leading cause of blindness, affecting two-billion people worldwide. The eyepiece costs $2 and requires no expertise compared to the bulky, expensive equipment in most optometrists' offices.

"You can see this being distributed to people where they can reach thousands and thousands of people who will not otherwise have access to any kind of eye care whatsoever," said Belinda Vandervoort, an app tester.

Taya Leary had Lasik surgery, so she comes in for vision check-ups three to four times a year.

"It, personally, would save me the time and frustration of going to the doctor's office as well as it helps me stay on top of my sight," said Leary.

A low-cost, low-maintenance device that could change the way the world sees.

The creators are testing NETRA in developing countries. It's not yet FDA approved. The technology won an annual competition for inventions that have a potential to make a significant impact in the developing world.


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