CGI U@Duke Stories: Yitaek Hwang, P’16

ViFlex: Better Glasses for Developing Countries

ViFlex glasses field test by partner Access Healthcare Nepal


ViFlex was started by Nathan and Evan at Washington University in St. Louis after they heard that over 700 million people in developing countries are unable to get glasses that are effective and affordable. When Nathan became a medical student at Duke last year, he contacted me about forming an engineering team to improve the design and produce the glasses. I recruited a team of engineers involved in various clubs on campus such as DukeMakers, Design for America, Engineering World Health, and DEID. ViFlex is now composed of fifteen undergraduate and graduate students with ample experience in 3D printing, computer aided design, manufacturing, and international development work.


Mentors – To start our initial design process, we contacted an optometrist at the Duke Hospital, Dr. Petrowski, who taught us how prescription glasses were made. Through the Duke Startup Challenge, we have received mentorship from Jake Kiser (Fuqua), Matt Nash (Social Entrepreneurship), and Howie Rhee (I&E Department) to improve our overall business strategy and start crowdfunding campaigns. Tony Wang (Three W International) also agreed to provide design help and contact investors to scale the company.

Duke Resources – We have been sharing workspace with DukeMakers, who has provided tools to maintain our 3D printer. We are now working with the Innovation Co-Lab and The Edge to further utilize 3D printing resources on campus and hold weekly meetings. After talking to professors in Pratt for design and manufacturing advice, we successfully field-tested our prototypes in Ghana, Guyana, India, and Thailand. A team from Duke Interdisciplinary Social Innovators (DISI) is helping us plan our first large-scale pilot test with a partner organization.

Future Plans

Grand Challenge Scholar (GC) – Next year, I will be working on my GC Portfolio, building on CGIU and civic engagement experience through DukeEngage in Tanzania. My thesis entails a project aimed at developing a low-cost ophthalmologic diagnostic device to complement ViFlex glasses. I plan to either adopt traditional diagnostic systems (Snellen charts and phoropters) with cheaper alternatives (Adlens glasses) or software-based approaches that use smartphones to detect vision loss to accurately determine lens prescription and early signs of retinal diseases. As part of this program, I have set up independent studies with Dr. Martin Brooke and Dr. Michael Gehm to study optical hardware systems. I am also taking classes taught by Dr. Eric Toone (I&E Department) to study strategies to commercialize and scale our technology.

Post-Graduation – Upon graduation, I plan to work with several nonprofit organizations to build hospitals and lay out infrastructure in order to improve healthcare in developing countries. I will first focus on addressing the vision crisis, combining both my experiences with ViFlex and Grand Challenge Scholar Program. At ViFlex, we believe that everyone should be able to access glasses that are customized to their needs. Pairing ophthalmologic diagnostic device with ViFlex glasses, I envision creating sustainable solutions to provide glasses to 700 million people who need vision correction around the world.

Relevant Links

CGIU Feature Blog

ViFlex YouTube Channel