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DIY Eyeglass Prescription Platform Powered by Smartphone

EyeNetra cofounder and CTO Vitor Pamplona shows off the DIY eyeglass prescription platform.
EyeNetra cofounder and CTO Vitor Pamplona shows off the DIY eyeglass prescription platform. (Courtesy EyeNetra Inc.)

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla caused something of a ruckus when he declared that much of the medical profession is "something a computer algorithm could do if the treatment involved no harm."

It's no surprise that Khosla has invested in technologies he feels can make that vision a reality. For instance, he has invested in iPhone ECG innovator AliveCor and EyeNetra Inc. The latter firm is a developer of an inexpensive, easy-to-use smartphone-based platform that makes possible DIY eyeglass prescriptions. Using smartphone clip-on device that only costs a few dollars to make, the technology functions similar to the autorefractors used by optometrists that cost several thousand dollars. The app also enables users to order glasses.

For now, EyeNetra is setting its sites on the developing world and working to demonstrate the accuracy of the platform. Researchers from the company and Boston's New England College of Optometry are scheduled to deliver a poster presentation at the upcoming Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) meeting in Orlando, FL, comparing two of their latest phase-III Netra-G smartphone-mounted devices with subjective refraction.

The research team tested two groups totaling 43 children for refractive error (RE) with their two devices. One group consisted of older children (mean age about 14) and the other of younger children (mean age about 11). The two devices differed only in their pupillary distance to accommodate the two age groups. The researchers then compared results with those obtained with subjective refraction.

In their results, the researchers report that 89 percent of the children tested were able to achieve a visual acuity of 20/25 or better when tested with the Netra-G device. Netra-G detects nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, and astigmatism.

"This study shows that Netra-G is an easy and portable way of measuring RE even in younger populations," the presentation's published abstract reports. "This device has a potential to be utilized by non-eye care professionals in areas where access to eye care is limited."

EyeNetra Inc., a privately held MIT Media Lab Camera Culture Club spinout, says they are bringing eye refraction tests to the Third World. They estimate that about 2.4 billion people in the world need an eye exam but can't afford one and/or live too far from the nearest optometrist. In addition to the smartphone and app, Netra-G requires a clipon viewfinder that only costs about $2 to make.

The group is also working on a device it calls EyeMitra, which is said to be a pair of eyeglasses that can help provide early detection of diabetic retinopathy.

The company was founded in 2011 by David Schafran, CEO, formerly an MIT Media Lab researcher, with Vitor Pamplona, PhD, chief technical officer, whose PhD thesis research led to some of EyeNetra's technology, and chief scientist Ramesh Raskar, PhD, a tenured member of the MIT Media Lab faculty.

Last summer the company got a $2 million cash infusion from a source unnamed in the Securities and Exchange Commission filing, although their website lists as investors Khosla Ventures and Khosla Impact.

Stephen Levy is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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