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NETRA: A Smartphone-based Eye Testing Tool

|June 25 2010 |Smart Phones, Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology has come out with a simple method of testing eyes by using smartphone. A team of researchers at MIT’s Media Lab -- including Vitor Pamplona, Ramesh Raskar, Manuel Oliveira and Ankit Mohan -- has introduced a eye testing tool, dubbed Near-Eye Tool for Refractive Assessment (NETRA ).

MITThe eye test can be carried out using a small, plastic device clipped onto the front of a cellphone’s screen. The patient looks into a small lens, and presses the phone’s arrow keys until sets of parallel green and red lines just overlap. This is repeated eight times, with the lines at different angles, for each eye. The whole process takes less than two minutes, at which point software loaded onto the phone provides the prescription data. The device uses an optical system derived from one some team members developed last year as a way of producing tiny barcodes (called Bokode) that could provide a large amount of information.

"Our device has the potential to make routine refractive eye exams simpler and cheaper, and, therefore, more accessible to millions of people in developing countries," visiting professor Manuel Oliveira says.

“People have tried all kinds of things, some very clever,” as possible replacements for the heavy and expensive conventional eye-testing systems," adds Ankit Mohan, a postdoctoral research associate at MIT . “The key thing that differentiates ours is that it doesn’t require any moving parts.” The technology takes advantage of the huge improvements over the last few years in the resolution of digital displays and their widespread proliferation on cellphones, even in some of the world’s poorest countries — there are now some 4 billion cellphones in the world. Apart from the software to run on the phone, all that’s needed is the snap-on plastic device, which Mohan says, can be produced at a cost of about $1 to $2 today but could cost only a few cents in large quantities.

The team has already applied  for a patent and will be field-testing the device in the Boston area this summer and will later test it in developing countries. They also plan to showcase this device at the annual computer-graphics conference SIGGRAPH in July.

The group plans to launch production of the device as a for-profit company called PerfectSight, initially targeting parts of Africa and Asia. "We also hope to produce a more advanced version that can incorporate its own higher-resolution display and be able to detect other conditions such as cataracts, which could be sold in the developed world as well," the team concludes.

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