menu

Design

Joshua Silver, shortlisted for an EU award, hopes to supply children in the developing world with 200 million pairs of self-adjusting glasses.

Dan Gould
  • 23 may 2011


Powered by Guardian.co.uk
This article titled “British inventor’s spectacles revolution for Africa” was written by Robin McKie, for The Observer on Saturday 21st May 2011 23.06 UTC

A British atomic physicist is liaising with the World Bank on a revolutionary project to distribute spectacles to 200 million children in developing countries. Users will be able to adjust the glasses to their own personal prescription without help from an optician.

“All users have to do is look at a reading chart and adjust the glasses until they can see letters clearly,” said Professor Joshua Silver, who was last week shortlisted for a 2011 European inventor award at a ceremony in Budapest. “Glasses like these are perfect for use in the third world. We can send them to schools where teachers can direct pupils to set their spectacles to suit each one’s vision. It is as simple as that.”

Silver estimates that more than a billion adults in developing nations have poor eyesight. This seriously limits their education and employment prospects. He is now working with the World Bank and the Dow Corning Corporation – which makes the silicone materials used in his revolutionary glasses – to supply 200 million pairs of self-adjusting spectacles to schoolchildren in Africa and Asia. Ultimately, he hopes a billion pairs of the glasses will be made.

The scientist’s work was highlighted by the European Patent Office and the European Union at a joint ceremony in Budapest as an example of the work that European scientists should be undertaking. Fourteen other projects – from new biofuel furnaces to cheap water-purification devices – were also on display.

The European patent system is undergoing a radical restructuring in a bid to make it as competitive as those in the US and other countries. The 15 inventions were selected to show not just the economic benefits of good invention and patenting, but to demonstrate that society can gain from an innovation that is properly protected by a good patent.

“One of the EU’s key duties is establishing the right framework to ensure the long-term innovative capacity of inventive enterprises,” said the EU’s internal market and services commissioner, Michel Barnier. “The EU patent will be a clear step in that direction.”

Of the EU’s 27 states, 25 have agreed to a common approach to patenting. Only Spain and Italy are holding out, because the new patents will be written only in English, German and French.

At the Budapest ceremony, Silver revealed that he began working on his revolutionary glasses – which are covered by patents – as a hobby more than 20 years ago, while he was relaxing from his daytime job as a professor of physics at Oxford University. “I was curious. I did it for fun,” said Silver, who is now director of the Oxford-based Centre for Vision in the Developing World.

What Silver created was ingenious and, like most great inventions, amazingly simple: low-cost glasses that can be tuned by the wearer. His spectacles have “adaptive lenses”, which consist of two thin membranes separated by silicone gel. The wearer simply looks at an eye chart and pumps in more or less fluid to change the curvature of the lens, which adjusts the prescription.

“It is incredibly easy. You don’t need an optician, just a little bit of basic instruction,” said Silver. “Our tests – which have ranged from trials with pupils in rural schools in China to inner-city schools in Boston – have found that more than 95% of adolescents can handle these glasses quite easily and set their own prescription without problem.

“We call this process self-refraction, and 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’s spectacles have two disadvantages, however. They cost around £15 a pair to make. “We have to get that cost down if we want to get these in numbers to children in Africa or Asia,” said Silver. “We are working on that, and I expect we’ll get the price down to around £1 a pair. At that cost, the plan to supply 200 million glasses becomes practicable.”

Silver also acknowledges that his glasses – which have thick, round rims – are not particularly attractive. “If we want teenagers to wear them, we will have to make them less obtrusive and more stylish. In essence, we want to make them look just like standard glasses. I am very hopeful we will succeed.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Design
Trending

Japanese Face Wash Creates A Perfect Rose Every Time

Arts & Culture
Mobile august 26, 2016

Get A Better Idea Of How You Are Wasting Your Time

The TouchTime app is trying to revolutionize personal task management by providing detailed insight on how to be more efficient

Culture august 26, 2016

London Telephone Box Repurposed As A Tiny Mobile Repair Shop

Tools and supplies to replace broken screens or damage are neatly stowed away in these micro-workrooms

Trending

Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Work

See All
Design august 26, 2016

Conceptual Sportswear Created Out Of Futuristic Condom Material

A Dutch fashion designer is experimenting with new methods and fabrics to make high performance clothing

Fashion august 26, 2016

Fashionable Tassel Will Ensure You Never Lose Your Valuables Again

The device is fashion meets connected tech, that will help you keep track of your belongings at all times

Syndicated august 26, 2016

Would You Wear Wool Shoes To Save The Environment?

As demand for wool shoes grows, a number of US footwear brands are heading directly to the source: the sheep pastures of New Zealand

Sustainability august 26, 2016

Self-Healing Material Is Fashioned Out Of Squid Teeth

Penn State researchers have devised a new textile that uses organic proteins

Arts & Culture august 26, 2016

Search Engine Turns Your Own Drawings Into Photos

This image-matching software accepts hand-made sketches instead of keywords

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed august 25, 2016

Retail Expert: What Sustainability Means To The Millennial Generation

Jo Godden, Founder of RubyMoon, discusses how brands can limit their environmental impact worldwide

PSFK Labs august 25, 2016

PSFK’s Workplace Vision: How The Nurturing Of Seeds Will Come To Define The Onboarding Process

Our Future of Work vision is a service that allows companies to assemble and deliver welcome packets that are uniquely focused on the concept of growth

Arts & Culture august 26, 2016

Illustrator Interprets The Experiences Of Blind Travelers

Artist Alby Letoy creates drawings of poignant travel memories for the visually impaired

Advertising august 26, 2016

Clickbait Titles Used For The Good Of Charity

An agency devised an unlikely campaign that uses clickbait as a positive force to drive awareness to nonprofit initiatives

Advertising august 26, 2016

The Best In Eye-Catching Olympics Campaigns

PSFK rounds out the Rio Games with our picks for the best advertising moments off the field

Work august 26, 2016

Editorial Roundtable: The Arrival Of The People-First Workplace

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary and thinkPARALLAX enumerate the reasons why companies need an employee-embracing workforce in order to exist

Arts & Culture august 26, 2016

Transforming Light Waves Into A New Art Form

An artist uses glass treated with layers of metallic coatings to create a unique installation called lightpaintings

INSIGHTS COVERAGE

Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games
READ NOW

Design august 26, 2016

This Windbreaker Lets You Explore The Outdoors While Charging Your Phone

The apparel includes solar panels that allow the wearer to stay connected through the power of renewable energy

Asia august 26, 2016

The Goal Of This Game Is To Not Get Laid Off From Your Job

A hit mobile app has you working really, really hard to not get fired as you climb the corporate ladder

Advertising august 26, 2016

Movie Critic Bot Guides Viewers Through Festival Offerings

The Toronto International Film Festival has created a Facebook Messenger chatbot to help attendants curate their schedule

No search results found.