Smartphones, and the iPhone in particular, are changing the way we do everything. From helping to diagnose breast cancer to communicating with those unable to speak, this technology has led to breakthroughs in many areas.  Now the iPhone is being developed to provide basic eye care to third-world and indigent populations.

Netra eye deviceThe first development from MIT allowed the iPhone to measure eyeglass prescriptions – an extremely portable and relatively inexpensive technology.

The device, called Netra, is a $2 clip-on eyepiece that goes over the iPhone screen. The user looks through this eye piece to interactively align a displayed pattern by clicking the buttons. The number of clicks required to bring the patterns into alignment indicates the eyeglass prescription.

Cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide – and the team at MIT has developed another low-cost add-on for the iPhone to detect cataracts in a matter of minutes.  Normally, cataracts are diagnosed by a specially trained eye doctor using an expensive microscope called a slit-lamp.CATRA eye image

This new ‘radar’ for the human eye, named Catra, is inexpensive, and clips onto a smartphone and sends a light into the eye.  The patient reports changes they see in the light and the software computes the level of cataracts.

Cataracts are surgically removed when they cause a decrease in vision to the 20/40 level.

These developments at MIT have the ability to change worldwide eye care for the better. Enabling outreach organizations to diagnose eye conditions with less expensive equipment will ultimately result in better standard of care worldwide.