I got distracted today watching some of the videos from TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design: Ideas Worth Spreading). So far, my favorite talk was by Saul Griffith (entitled "Hardware solutions to everyday problems"). I'm including the inline video below, though you can also find it on the TED website here.
Saul Griffith offers a glimpse into the future with this compelling overview of his works-in-progress and materials-in-progress. The award-winning inventor shares the inspiration (a droplet of water) behind his low-cost prescription lenses, produced by a machine the size of an inkjet printer. Other projects include Howtoons and Instructables (comics that show how to build things and understand things), "smart" rope that can tell how much it's carrying, and a house-sized kite for towing boats.
So un-knowingly I'm actually very familiar with Saul's activities. I had previously read his PhD and Masters theses from MIT; I'm familiar with Instructables and Squid Labs; and I'm familiar with some of his kite activities via Matt Reynolds. However, I had never seen anything about his inexpensive lens maker, and let me tell you... It is cool!
The Media Lab graduate student has invented a machine to make low-cost prescription eyeglass lenses for people in the developing world who can't afford them now.
Griffith said he made the machine from "stuff I could find around the house." For instance, the flexible mold changes shape when Griffith pushes the plunger on a large syringe that injects baby oil into a small rubber tube leading to the mold.
The machine is an alternative to the far more expensive injection molding, which requires that a separate mold be produced for each eyeglass prescription. And while this machine is designed specifically for molding lenses, the concept would work for other uses as well, said Griffith, who imagines that mass-produced dolls could be individualized by giving each a discrete face.
You can read a bit about it here and here, but it is best to hear about how it works directly from a video demonstrating its operation. Apparently the lenses can be produced quite cheap (like under $5-$10). I'm sure the 1 billion people who could benefit from its deployment are probably happy too (or at least they would be if people help support LowCostEyeGlasses.net).