Here in the U.S. we take for granted many of the necessities of life. However, across the world billions living in Third World countries and developing nations have trouble obtaining basic needs. Something as simple as finding clean drinking water can be impossible. Basic medical care is scarce. And those with poor vision are forced to endure as glasses are typically far too expensive.
A new invention could fix that last problem and bring vision to as many as a billion worldwide -- the world's first fully tunable prescription-free glasses.
The tunable glasses were invented by retired Oxford University physic professor Joshua Silver. He devised the lenses in a moment he called a "glimpse of the obvious". He sees them hitting the market in about a decade and bringing improved vision to about a billion living in poverty worldwide. With vision a key to literacy, these new lenses could make a world of difference.
The new lenses can be tuned via simple mechanical motions to correct for both near-sighted and far-sighted vision. Professor Silver has been developing them for over two decades now, ever since a 1985 conversation with a colleague hatched the idea in his mind.
Now at last he has a cheap, easily mass-produced design largely worked out. His lenses use liquid lenses which inject or remove liquid to adjust the thickness of the lens. Thicker lenses are more powerful, while thinner lenses are weaker. By adjusting the thickness, typically done by cutting to a prescription, the proper vision correction is achieved. However, the new lenses can be adjusted freely.
The glasses' liquid lenses are encased in tough plastic, which protects the delicate lens sacs. A small dial on each arm pumps a small syringe which adds or removes fluid from the lens sac. These syringe/dial setup can be easily removed after the proper adjustment is achieved, saving on costs.
Britain's Department for International Development has begun a trial deployment of the glasses, and has already distributed thousand of pairs in Third World countries. Professor Silver is determined to ramp up production to millions of units.
Professor Silver is touched and inspired by stories such as that of Henry Adjei-Mensah, a tailor in Ghana who fell into poverty when he was forced to retire at an early age for lack of glasses. He describes, "So he retires. He was about 35. He could have worked for at least another 20 years. We put these specs on him, and he smiled, and threaded his needle, and sped up with this sewing machine. He can work now. He can see."
He is currently readying a program in India which will deploy a million units a year. He wants to eventually release a level of 100 million units a year, with 1 billion distributed by 2020 as his chief goal.