Santa Clara University


Envisioning a Frugal Cataract Detection System

One of the requirements Professor Radha Basu, Director of the School of Engineering’s Frugal Innovation Lab, makes of students taking Engineering for the Developing World (ENGR 336) is attendance at the annual Global Social Benefit Incubator wherein social enterprises present their business plans before an audience of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. From this pairing of bright students and worthy causes come some great collaborations, one of which could bring affordable eye care to people in remote areas of Mexico.

At the conference, graduate students Ruth Borrud, Jasmin Gonzalez, and Layne Orr learned about the work being done by Salauno, a social enterprise that is seeking improved means for diagnosing cataracts in patients living in remote areas and referring them for surgery to their urban center. Currently, Salauno has set up satellite eye camps, where expensive equipment and doctors with limited availability are brought in to identify potential patients, some of whom travel a great distance just to learn they are not candidates for surgery. Salauno was seeking a way to broaden their impact through the use of affordable, transportable detection devices. 

Frugal Innovation Core Competencies

“Radha was very helpful,” said Orr. “She was aware of a device, CATRA, developed by a team at MIT that can be assembled for less than $2. Attached to a smartphone, an interactive app is used to scan the eye and map cataract locations. After familiarizing ourselves with this and other emerging technologies, we determined CATRA would work well for Salauno.”

The team developed a concept for how Salauno could integrate this device, proposing a smartphone application to be developed that would merge data from the scan with patient information for transmittal from the phone to Salauno’s cloud. From there it could be retrieved at Salauno’s vision centers where surgeons could review the information and determine if the patient needed to come in for further examination and/or treatment.  

“It was quite amazing to see how pairing MIT’s device with our plan for a mobile app and cloud-based storage system could help so many more people while saving significant time and money for patients and Salauno,” said Orr.  

“The Frugal Innovation Lab develops accessible, affordable and appropriate technologies and products for emerging markets aimed at social impact,” said Basu. “Bringing this unique perspective to Silicon Valley engineering students at a time when companies are increasingly focused on the developing world is very exciting and satisfying.”  

Frugal Innovation students with Radha Basu Graduate students (from left) Alec Nicholas, Timothy Cheng, Anthea Buchin, Layne Orr and Sean Screws with Radha Basu and Elizabeth Sweeny in the Frugal Innovation Lab
Photo: Charles Barry

For Orr and a new team of students taking Dr. Kern Peng’s course, Advanced Project Management and Leadership (EMGT 335), the work continues as they further develop the Salauno-CATRA concept and project plan this quarter.

More information on the Frugal Innovation Lab:

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