Blink launches on-demand eye exams in New York City

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Call it the Uber of opticians, or the Toms of eyeglass prescriptions: A new service that launched in New York City last week brings an eye testing service to customers at their homes. Blink, as the service is called, was first developed by the Camera Culture group at MIT’s Media Lab and its Somerville spinoff EyeNetra.

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For about a decade, the group has been testing the ability to turn a smartphone into tool that reads refractive errors in the eye, the information that optometrists typically use to create new prescriptions for corrective lenses.

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EyeNetra is one of several groups giving rural communities access to eye care through portable diagnostic tools powered by smartphones. Blink, the group’s first commercial venture, seeks to appeal to Manhattan’s busy, mobile-obsessed millennials who are used to ordering everything from miso soup to manicures via apps, according to EyeNetra chief executive Steve Carlson.

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Blink customers can book appointments online. Blink’s employees, called “visioneers,” will visit them at at work, at a coffee shop, or at their home, carrying EyeNetra’s portable diagnostics.

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The at-home eye exam begins with the visioneer taking note of the customer’s existing prescription. Next is an eye test conducted using Blink’s custom technology: a boxy piece of headgear that contains a smartphone and pair of virtual reality goggles. It’s essentially a miniaturized and portable version of the piece of equipment that typically takes up most an optician’s exam room, which can cost upwards of $20,000.

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The camera and memory in a smartphone are used to record the information necessary for an eyeglasses prescription, which is then sent electronically to one of Blink’s partner licensed optometrists. They then issue a prescription.

Blink appointments cost $75 per visit, and are not covered by insurance at launch. Following the models set by glasses-maker Warby Parker and shoe manufacturers Toms, Blink gives away a free eye exam and pair of glasses for each appointment purchased. For now, the free exams will be offered to poor people in New York neighborhoods who might otherwise go without treatment.

The company notes that the test does not assess eye health, the kind of information eye doctors collect during a “comprehensive eye exam.” It’s limited to identifying refractive errors — the kind that can be corrected using prescriptive lenses.

Boston serial entrepreneur and ex-chief of the Media Lab Frank Moss and Jay Duker, chair of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine, are on the advisory board for Blink. Ramesh Raskar, the head of the Camera Culture group at the MIT Media Lab that developed this tech, is on the board of directors.

Images via Blink

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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