Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Liquid Lens: The “Silver Glasses” $1 Solution in Repairing Third World Eyesight

Affordable Price + Optician-free Spectacle Design = Innovative solution to increasing Third World eyesight

As many of us prepare for Thanksgiving, it may be worthwhile to spend some time appreciating those innovators striving to improve the world. Professor Josh Silver aims to do just that with his innovative Harry Potter-esque “Silver Glasses,” which are designed to improve the vision of those without access to an optometrist. Although people in wealthy countries have little trouble accessing an optometrist or purchasing a pair of glasses, it’s not so easy in less developed countries. According to Silver, there is a significant lack of optometrists in Africa - about 1 to every 8 million people. In England, on the other hand, optometrists are much more plentiful- about 1 to every 10,000 people. To solve this problem, Dr. Silver, a former professor of physics at Oxford University, discovered a new way to alter the curvature of lenses while studying mirrors in his lab. Silver then applied this method to create a new form of water-filled corrective lens that easily adjust and correct over 90% of users’ vision. This is particularly useful for people in developing countries, where optometrists are costly and unavailable.

Given that half the human population has impaired vision, Silver’s product innovation satisfies a pressing need and offers numerous benefits. First, the glasses can be easily mass-produced. Rather than manufacturing a variety of unique lenses – each tailored to users’ specific needs - Silver can easily mass-produce millions of the glasses. Although this one-size-fits-all design may not succeed in highly developed countries like the U.S., Silver’s goal is to help the millions of people in impoverished countries who suffer from poor vision. Secondly, the “Silver Glasses” are very cheap and affordable (around $1) for consumers in developing countries. Thirdly, international literacy rates will significantly improve following distribution of the glasses. Given that good eyesight is required for good observation, the glasses can also promote innovation and scientific discovery in developing countries.

So far, about 30,000 “Silver Glasses” have been distributed to people throughout 15 impoverished countries. However, Professor Silver’s end-goal is far more ambitious. Ultimately, Silver hopes to distribute the glasses to over one billion people by 2020 by distributing 100 millions pairs annually.

Despite Silver’s humble claim that his invention was merely a “glimpse of the obvious,” I think his innovation is groundbreaking. Given that the glasses are entering a new, untapped market – the cheap, nonprescription glasses market- Silver’s product innovation is a blue ocean strategy. Venturing into this unknown market, the “Silver Glasses” are creating demand rather than fighting for it. Moreover, Conway and Steward argued that organizations must actively involve and leverage their “networks” to achieve sustainable innovative value. Revolutionary innovations, such as Sony’s Betamax, typically require widespread support from key organizations to achieve success and sustainability. Similarly, I think Professor Silver must utilize support from his network’s key “players” (Non-Profits, the UN, national & local governments, companies, etc.) to establish a distribution infrastructure and deliver innovative value. Without such network support, the “Silver Glasses” innovation may fail to deliver large-scale value to the international community.

How can Professor Silver use “organizational networks” to deliver his innovation on a large-scale, global level?

What are the disruptive implications, if any, of the “Silver Glasses”?

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1 comment:

  1. I feel that Professor Silver's glasses definitely hold disruptive implications. Why not offer these glasses in America? Better yet, model his business plan to that of Tom's shoes where for each pair sold, a pair is sent to a child in need. "One for One" as they say at Tom's. The Lenscrafters in the local malls would panic.