iPhone app brightens up color blind world

April 4, 2011 7:18:04 PM PDT
About 8 percent of men and along with a small number of women are color blind. But now there's an app for that. A new device is helping those people see in ways they've never seen before, allowing them to identify colors that were once hidden to their eyes.

Like most people termed color blind, Howard Hart is really color deficient. He sees some bold colors, but definitely not subtler tones.

"Even bananas, I kind of stopped eating bananas," says Hart. "I either buy them too green or they're over ripe."

But with the help of a new device, he can now see those shades in a different way. Hart tested a new iPhone application with Dr. Jacque Duncan, MD, a professor of ophthalmology at UCSF. It combines the iPhone's camera with specially developed software to help patients identify colors.

"It seemed very interesting in that he was able to distinguish differences in color that he was absolutely not able to see," said Duncan.

"I was seeing colors very bright and very vivid," said Hart.

The application is the creation of well-known computer security expert Dan Kaminsky. Kaminsky says his interest was piqued after watching a Star Trek movie with a color blind colleague.

"I say to him, 'Color blind? What did you think of the green girl?' He looks me in the eye, 'There was a green girl? I thought she was just tan!"

So Kaminsky began developing the app, now known as the Dan-Kam. Simplified, he says it takes subtler shades of reds, greens and blues, like those seen along the edges of the triangles on a color wheel and sharpens them to match the brighter part in the middle that most color blind people see the best.

Kaminsky says the device could help a color blind person do everything from appreciate the brushstrokes in a work of art, to pick out a tie at a department store.

He admits the device won't have the same benefit for all patients, since different types of impairments can cause patients to see color differently. Still, he believes it holds new promise for the millions of people like Hart who suffer from color deficiency.

"It was my first glimpse of what other people that are not color blind see," said Hart.

The app can be downloaded to the iPhone for $2.99. There's also a version available for Android phones. Kaminsky says he's currently working on a newer version that will include a wizard to help users identify their color deficiencies and guide them to the best settings to fix them.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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