Smartphones are everywhere - it’s a sad truth that in Kenya, more people now have access to a mobile phone than clean running water. But in an unexpected upside to the technology, scientists are finding ways to turn smartphones into cheap and portable healthcare tools.
On the horizon we already have apps that allow diabetics to control their insulin levels, cameras that will soon be able to see cancer, software that can zap your brain to make your relax, and even sensors that let your smartphone detect Ebola.
Now researchers in the UK have created the Portable Eye Examination Kit (Peek) and developed an attachment that automatically turns smartphones around the world into portable eye exam equipment.
The device, called Peek Retina, clips onto the front of a phone and works with an app to capture photos of the back of the retina - one of the areas most often involved in eyesight problems.
"It projects light with the correct intensity and angle to illuminate the retina," Mario Giardini, who developed the hardware, told Ben Schiller over at Co.Exist. "That is then visualised on the phone."
According to Andrew Bastawrous, the ophthalmologist working on the Peek system, four out of five people who are blind around the world don’t need to be, as they’re suffering from a preventable or curable condition. The hope is that Peek Retina will allow these patients to take photos of their eyes and send them to experts around the world so they can be diagnosed and even treated remotely.
The team has been testing the system for the past two years in the UK and African countries such as Botswana, Mali and Kenya, and they’re now crowd-funding the project on Indiegogo, with the aim of getting the device out to people who need it by October 2015.
Their studies show that a healthcare worker using Peek Retina can accurately assess more than 1,000 people per week, and the device could also be used by non-experts in their own homes.
While the device was developed with rural regions and developing countries in mind, it could also be used anywhere in the world to help doctors screen more patients quickly and cheaply.
"Whether it's in Africa or a high-income country, effectively this is a screening tool," Giardini told Co.Exist. "It can also address a need here—say, in the United Kingdom or the US, where we need to scale the population and pick up people who need further attention."
See Peek in action in this video on the system:
And see Bastawrous talk about Peek in his TED talk early this year: