Customizable, Adjustable Eyeglasses for the Developing World

Customizable, Adjustable Eyeglasses for the Developing World

  • Beta-testing in Ghana
    Zoom
    Beta-testing in Ghana
  • Our current prototype
    Zoom
    Our current prototype
  • Beta-testing in Ghana
    Zoom
    Beta-testing in Ghana
  • Assembling the glasses
    Zoom
    Assembling the glasses
  • Isometric view of fully assembled eyeglasses
    Zoom
    Isometric view of fully assembled eyeglasses
  • Isometric view of left lens holder
    Zoom
    Isometric view of left lens holder
  • Lens holder: top view
    Zoom
    Lens holder: top view
  • Lens holder: cross section
    Zoom
    Lens holder: cross section
ViFlex Glasses Assembly Video
What It Does

We have developed low-cost, adjustable glasses that users can customize to their prescription needs, frame specifications, and aesthetic preferences.

The Inspiration

Over 700 million people in developing countries have vision loss that could be resolved with a pair of glasses, resulting in well over $200 billion dollars of lost economic output every year. If the status quo persists, the World Health Organization estimates that untreated refractive error will "rise into the top 10 global health issues affecting productivity and opportunities, passing HIV/AIDS in its global burden." (2004) Unfortunately, current solutions have failed to simultaneously address the main barriers to accessing glasses, namely cost, social stigma, and the scarcity of optometrists.

My co-founder is dependent on his glasses to the point that it is nearly impossible for him to do anything related to distance vision without wearing them. Consequently, it was hard for us to believe that so many people need glasses and are unable to access them. Talking with glasses users and development experts highlighted for us that untreated refractive error is a pervasive issue in developing countries. We read about interesting, but complex, innovations and realized that there is a much simpler solution. After more than a year of lots of caffeine, little sleep, and numerous iterations, we beta-tested our prototype, formed a startup, won several awards and over $15,000 in funding, and gained the support needed to turn our glasses into a sustainable and scalable solution.

How It Works

We have designed low-cost, adjustable glasses that allow users to determine their own prescription strength and to customize the frames to their specifications and aesthetic preferences. Our design uses three simple, decoupled components that can be assembled by hand at their point of use; this greatly reduces shipping volumes and simplifies the distribution process. The ability to manipulate both frame size and prescription strength, and to do so easily and repeatedly, allows a standard set of materials to be used. The decoupling of the major components creates flexibility later in the distribution process, increases the product lifespan, and minimizes costs to the consumer, while maximizing the utility and comfort of the glasses.

In addition to standard eyeglass lenses, the glasses are composed of 18-gauge insulated copper wire and two 3D-printed plastic lens holders. The lens holders can be printed in a variety of colors, allowing users to customize the color of their frames. The idea of decoupling all of the major components of eyeglasses and allowing for their easy re-coupling, while not technically complicated, is the central innovation. To the best of our knowledge, no other design allows users to entirely self-assemble a pair of eyeglasses, letting them manipulate by hand all of the major parameters governing comfort and functionality.

Stages of Development

Our design was inspired by glasses from the early 1900s. Frames of that era were made out of wire that was bent to fit the specifications of the user. This technique is a remarkably simple and cost-effective way of accounting for variations in user parameters. By combining this approach with the ability to easily swap different lenses in and out of the frames, we created an inexpensive, scalable solution to visual impairment in the developing world.

Our glasses have gone through a number of iterations. We moved from concepts involving multiple, overlapping lenses to our single lens, interchangeable design. The frame adjustability was added to later designs in response to feedback and an unaddressed market need. Throughout the design and prototyping processes, we have received feedback from engineering professors, manufacturing professionals, NGO leaders, public health experts, and end users. Without their advice and support, we would not be at the point we are today. We have successfully beta-tested our prototypes and plan to begin generating market traction by commercializing our glasses within the next few months. Nevertheless, our design will continue to evolve. We believe that good products are responsive to user needs. Designs are not finalized by reaching commercial viability, and we will continue to modify our glasses in response to the feedback we receive.

Awards

Recently, we won the Washington University Engineering Discovery Competition and were named as finalists for the Suren G. Dutia and Jas K. Grewal Global Impact Award. We are also entered in the NIH DEBUT Challenge, the Collegiate Inventors Competition, and the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Awards.