This isn't a review. It's not even breaking news. It's just a reminder that someone somewhere is doing something awesome.
I've been fascinated by the "Adspecs" since I first heard of them a few years ago. The glasses have oil-filled lenses which, when adjusted with the attached syringes, allow anyone to dial in their own prescription just by looking at a chart. (I've tried to show how the lens work in the video above.)
This story originally started with a question: Hey, did that project ever actually get off the ground?
I'm happy to report that it has—to the tune of 30,000 pairs of Adspecs already in the field around the world, distributed through a variety of aid organizations.
For the last few weeks, I've been speaking to the Centre for Vision in the Develop World's Owen Reading about where the project is going. It doesn't hurt he's a Gizmodo reader. (Hi, Owen!) He explained why the Adspecs are such a good solution for developing economies.
"They require very little training to dispense, can be dispensed by an organisation's volunteers in the field, they only need to be delivered once and can make a difference for years afterwards, and are inherently safer (and less valuable on the black market) than items such as prescription medications."
The Adspecs aren't perfect. The sample pair I was given were an older design with a cranky hinge. It popped right apart when I put them on my huge head. It's nothing a little superglue can't fix, but thankfully a stronger design is already being distributed in the field. Adspecs are undergoing constant iterative improvement.
One of those improvements is price: The current version of the Adspecs still cost nearly $20 a pop to produce—a bargain considering they come with a self-administered eye exam built right in, but not as close to the $1-a-pair goal set by the project's founder and director, Josh Silver.
It's the sort of mixture of charity and innovation that makes my heart leap, an opportunity to use the mass production and design capabilities of the developed world to provide a life-changing solution to those who need it—without making those who receive aid dependent on someone else for continued support.
Among all the widgets-of-the-day, the tablets and phones and mail-order furniture, it's easy to forget how technology can make such a profound difference in people's lives. So let's not forget.
Background music by a band I suspect most of you will really enjoy, The Depreciation Guild, a Brooklyn-based band that combine an NES with really lovely shoegaze guitar. In fact, here's their latest single embedded below.