One Dollar Glasses

What, Where and How

OneDollarGlasses are lightweight, flexible frame made of extremely robust, rustproof steel wire of width 1mm. These are contact glasses similar to one we use but re-engineered for the developing world. It was initially introduced in Uganda and currently has its roots in Ethiopia, Benin, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Brazil. The cost of production of these glasses is US $1.

OneDollarGlasses are made from lightweight spring steel frame with prefabricated polycarbonate lenses. The innovation lies in material usage and engineering aspects of construction that makes the glasses affordable for people living on 1 US $ per day. These replace expensive contact glasses. People put them in front of their eyes, with frame resting on their nose-bridge and ears just like any other contact glasses.

Contact glasses for vision related problems cost $196 on an average. This is way beyond affordability for over 150 million people from the developing nations who would need them. Innovation lies in the ability to manufacture contact glasses for an affordable $1. OneDollarGlasses are produced on a specially designed bending machine. Bending machine, which is the core component of entire process, bends rust free spring steel into rectangular sections and helps produce frames of different sizes. It requires no electric power and virtually maintenance free and operated by trained local people. Once the frames are made, prefabricated lenses of desired lens power, made of polycarbonate, are fitted on to them.

Overall, the innovation lies in usage of affordable materials and manufacturing technologies to make possible the dream of vision for the developing countries.

Problem and Solution

Inaccessible eye care: Worldwide, approximately 150 million people would need a pair of glasses, but cannot afford it. They cannot learn, cannot work and cannot provide for their families.

OneDollarGlasses consist of a lightweight, flexible spring steel frame and prefabricated lenses and can be locally manufactured with simple bending machines. The material costs: approximately 1 US $.

Vision statement from the maker’s of OneDollarGlasses: “Children can attend classes thanks to the OneDollarGlasses again, parents can return to work and provide for their children, older people can read again.”

End Users

OneDollarGlasses are meant for the low-income people, of the developing nations, who are suffering from vision issues that can be corrected using contact glasses. These are for people living on 1 US $ per day. Currently the product targets following countries: Uganda, Ethiopia, Benin, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Brazil. The average GDP of these countries (excluding heavy weight Brazil) is 19 million USD and major income comes from agriculture and labor.

There are millions of people who can’t afford vision correction devices because the contact lens manufacturing technology is very expensive. So bringing the manufacturing cost down to 1 US$ is an apt move and a perfect fit for this community.


We are talking about a really good frugal innovation here. There is no competition seen so far as this method/innovation is deeply embedded with locals. More than the product, process created by the innovators is having a major impact. It is a self-sustaining business model. $1 contact glasses are made by the people and for the people. So competition is not an issue for OneDollarGlasses. In fact, OneDollarGlasses created a self-sustained business model where trained craftsmen setup their own business to create and sell these glasses among their community. So it is a healthy competition among the people towards the same goal of OneDollarGlasses.

Used glass donation programs that can potentially compete with this model. However OneDollarGlasses is a far more superior solution where patients get glasses that fit them perfectly. Every glass is designed according to patient dimensions and guarantees comfortable wear and accurate prescription.


The entire manufacturing unit is a portable wooden box of dimensions 30x30x30 cm. Trained opticians travel to different cities and villages and conduct optical vision exam to patients. Box contains various lenses with powers ranging from -6 diopters to +6 diopters and premade frames of different sizes. After vision exam suitable lens is fitted into right frame. So the patient gets his lens immediately.

There is also a program to train locals for two weeks so that they can be certified opticians. This helps spread distribution rapidly and creates livelihood for many.


OneDollarGlasses is no doubt an emerging market solution. It boasts on bringing highly expensive vision correction procedures to single digit. Let’s analyze how it fits to developing world.

The core principles for any product to be successful in frugal markets is it’s ability to satisfy following requirements (described below)

    Human Centric

    • OneDollarGlasses is an extension to their face to improve their vision.
    • It is aiming to solve problem that is common to humans.
    • Materials used are skin friendly.
    • Clearly it is human centric.


    • Entire process of manufacturing to distributing is simple.
    • Glasses are made by hand and take around 10 to 30 minutes to manufacture.
    • Once a vision exam is done, it takes a click to get the frame ready to user and of course it looks simple for the material design choices made.


    • All materials used for developing OneDollarGlasses are sourced from local resources.
    • Local people get trained and train others.
    • Local people develop, manufacture and sell glasses.
    • It is a big plus for OneDollarGlasses for being so local to users and generating a sustainable livelihood.


    • Major achievement of OneDollarGlasses is affordability.
    • It takes US $1 to manufacture the glasses.
    • It is sold between $2-$7 which is easily affordable for people living on $1 per day.


    • Manufacturing and entire process is completely eco friendly.
    • Bending machine used is manually operated and requires no power and virtually no maintenance.


    • Glasses are made of thin spring steel for frame and lightweight plastic for lens and clearly are extremely lighter than their developed country counterparts.
    • Entire manufacturing unit fits in 30x30x30 cm portable wooden box, which is carried by opticians to villages and cities comfortably.


    • OneDollarGlasses design is based on what’s affordable and what’s available. It adapted to local needs right from manufacturing to distribution.
    • Poor couldn’t travel. So a portable solution helped opticians reach out to poor. It adapted to economic conditions.
    • It integrated into people’s lifestyle. They were able to create their own businesses by manufacturing and selling OneDollarGlasses. It adapted to social conditions.

    Last mile distribution

    • OneDollarGlasses is heavily successful in achieving this objective. Being portable by design, it helped opticians travel with the equipment and reached even the remote possible areas.


    • This product may not directly relate to this competency. However we can call product dynamics to be mobile.
    • Lightweight product, portable process all contributed it to be a mobile solution.


    • Materials used for this product: steel and hardened polycarbonate. These materials are resistant to wear and tear.
    • In fact, the lens is as stable as expensive glasses made of titanium flex.

Application to developing world: This solution is in fact modeled from $1 reading glasses found in developing nations. However developed nations have adopted sophisticated techniques to manufacture vision correction lens. They have many additional functionalities like ability to filter UV rays and support activities like night driving, extended work with computer screens etc., so products like OneDollarGlasses is not a fit for this market and specially it may not work for it’s non-aesthetic appeal, which is a valued trait in products of developed nations.

Open-Ended thoughts

It’s very interesting to see how frugal engineering can solve the problems. OneDollarGlasses best utilizes what’s on hand. The whole stemmed from inventor Martin Aufmuth’s questioning:

Why can glasses for 1 Euro be bought in a rich country like Germany whilst in poor countries it is not possible?”

I think we have to start questioning what’s taken for granted in developed countries and see if it has an analogy to any problem domain in developing countries.


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What, Where and How

K-Yan also known as Knowledge Yan, is a compact teaching-aid that comes packed with projector; PC and DVD in a single box that can connect to Internet. It is a classroom tool for teachers, designed by teachers to bring technology to schools and improve education system. K-Yan functions as a computer, projector and television. It is a small portable box with all these components built in. Teachers carry these boxes loaded with educational content to class rooms and use them as teaching aids.

It was developed at IIT Bombay, India in 204 and currently being used at 2500+ schools and centers nation wide.

Problem and Solution

Education is becoming a necessity in developing countries like India. However schools and education systems are still lacking in technology implementations. Costs associated with deploying full-scale smart technologies are too huge for semi-urban, rural and urban areas. There is a need for education to be online and accessible even to remote areas. K-Yan is a portable computer with integrated projector that solves this problem. It comes with pre-installed educational content and connectivity to Internet, there by enabling modern methods to schools. It is portable so modern methods of education can reach even the remote rural schools. It also serves as a computer thereby improving overall operational and administrative efficiencies within schools.

End Users

K-Yan’s target market is Primary and Lower secondary schools, corporate, government offices, training centers and hospitals. It benefits teachers and students in a classroom setting by providing interactive learning methods. It is an organizational tool. So medium sized organizations can afford it. School administrators, self help center administrators, teachers, government/corporate media service department plays a role in implementing this product at their site.


K-Yan is an all purpose solution to bring ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) to education sector. It is accompanied with educational content that teachers can use. So let’s talk about two areas here: Competition for device as whole and Competition for content.

  • Device: K-Yan is a portable device, protected by patent rights. Virtually no one exists with an exact device. However it faces competition from other types of devices like Visualizer/Document cameras, portable android tablets. They compete in the same domain of being portable and delivering online/interactive education to schools.
  • Content: There are many local competitors providing educational content for a reasonable price. However most of their content is delivered as DVDs/Online. So this competition might impact quality of K-Yan’s content but it is a win-win for end users because they get more sources of content to play on this portable device.


K-Yan’s distribution can be compared to any other regular products in developing world. There are distributors/marketers partnered with IL&FS, parent company in all major states. These people keep visiting new schools and organizations to market their product. There is even an online channel for interested parties to sign up and schedule a demonstration. Since K-Yan is nothing but a portable computer, once bought, it is organization/school management’s responsibility to train teachers and include in their day-to-day curriculum.


It is a simple and portable tool. Schools and organizations in developing countries cannot afford to have smart classrooms like the developing nations. Education model in countries like India is different. It is taught in sessions just like universities. So teachers can share among themselves and carry such portable system to classrooms with ease. More over schools are rich enough to buy an on-the-fly system like this than spending money to restructure their years old infrastructure. Speaking of rural areas and communities, portable systems like these are best fit as there is no infrastructure to support other kinds of systems.

This solution might not be a good fit for developed economy where educational institutions are very well integrated with projectors, computers etc. However it can act as a portable/on-the-go learning tool without any modifications.

Open-Ended thoughts

It’s a simple tool. On the outside it looks nothing but a mere assembly of components put together. I personally had a chance to open the box some years back (early version of K-Yan) and surprised to see how the components are cleanly arranged to make it portable and share a single power outlet. It’s similar to what a big company like Dell did years back to make PC affordable and still continuing to do so. A good example to show how re-engineering can solve problems.


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Water ATM

What, Where and How

Water ATM is a cloud managed, solar powered, cashless vending machine that helps availability of clean drinking water 24 hours a day at the very last mile. It is delivering reverse osmosis treated clean water in over 6 states in India. We can think of a bank ATM as an analogy to Water ATM. Water ATM disburses purified ground water for a small cost. It is connected to an overhead tank, which is in turn connected to RO plant. RO plant gets ground water as an input and fills this overhead tank with processed/purified water. People scan their water ATM cards to pay and get required amount of water.

Problem and Solution

In India, especially low-income communities, clean water is unavailable and unaffordable. Every second visit made to doctor is related to water borne disease. An average family might end up spending up to 10-15% of monthly income on medical and associated expenses.

Water ATM initiative helps ensure water availability and to help people to come out of the vicious circle of poverty led by frequent sickness by providing low-cost safe drinking water on a pay-per-use basis.

End Users

End users of Water ATM are people of low-income communities. So it primarily targets people from remote areas, villages, slums, public schools and hospitals. These machines are deployed in areas where public water supplies are not an option. Solution is appropriate for these target markets because of its affordable cost and availability round the clock.


There are no direct competitors that provide a solution akin to Water ATM. Water ATM installation is not a simple process to compete head on and the foundation (Sarvajal) relies on partners through a well-established franchise model to deploy the machines. However indirect competition does exist. It can be seen in form of low-cost local packaged water supply, water hawkers. This solution is far superior to competition both in terms of efficiency and easiness.


Primal Water Private Limited is a for profit social enterprise that manages the distribution. It partners with government agencies, social organizations, entrepreneurs to setup the infrastructure needed at identified locations. End users are provided rechargeable smart cards. These cards can be swiped to access clean water.


Water ATM is no doubt specific to emerging market. Availability of clean water is a major issue in low-income societies of emerging markets. Unlike developed nations, there is no system of tap water or water to home and people have to walk miles to get water from natural sources like canals etc. This solution helps solve these issues.

This solution is not a direct fit to high-income communities or developing nations because of many affordable ways to get clean water. Some of them are: Water purifiers, direct clean tap water, and affordable packaged water. Essentially there is no need to deploy these machines with similar intention. However it can serve travelling water needs in developing countries. Vending machine model is successful in developing countries for various products. So water ATM model can be tweaked, disconnected from tank and RO plant and simply made as a clean water dispenser to fit developing world. In fact, such water vending machines do exist and widely used. Example: Glacier Water vending machines that are quite often found in gas stations in United States.

Open-Ended thoughts

In past, I personally visited some villages in south India. People in villages depend on natural sources like canals, rivers for their water needs. There is no shortage of water. However it is so unclean. They follow practices like cloth filtering which can hardly get rid of insoluble impurities. There is no such system in place yet. I could see that this system is mainly deployed in north India. People in villages are educated to spend on clean water. In my opinion, this technology of Water ATM is perfect to provide an affordable way to access clean water. More water it is simple and utilizes ground water, which is already available. Cloud connected water ATM is easy to manage from administration point of view. Once deployed, they can be managed remotely. I would say this is a must to every local income societies in developing nations.


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