Duo design smart bookstand to combat myopia

Mr Lee (left) and Mr Ng developed the BookBuddy after Mr Ng's daughter began showing signs of myopia. The gadget can help reinforce good reading habits, such as taking a break after half an hour.
Mr Lee (left) and Mr Ng developed the BookBuddy after Mr Ng's daughter began showing signs of myopia. The gadget can help reinforce good reading habits, such as taking a break after half an hour.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

It uses built-in sensors to tell a user if he is reading in low light or is too close to the pages

Most parents would just order a pair of spectacles for a child with myopia, but not Mr Gabriel Ng.

When the 39-year-old's daughter began showing signs of short-sightedness, he teamed up with a relative - Mr Mark Lee - to build a bookstand that they hope could help delay or even halt the progression of myopia in young children.

Their invention, the BookBuddy, uses built-in sensors to alert its users if they are reading in low light or leaning too close to the pages- both habits known to increase the risk of the condition. It also reminds readers to take a break every 30 minutes.

Now, Mr Ng said, his daughter has become more aware of how close her eyes are to a book and whether or not the lights are too dim.

According to the Health Promotion Board, Singapore tops the worldwide rankings for myopia among seven- to nine-year-olds. By the time they are 18, 80 per cent of young people are short-sighted.

"When I was young, I always had perfect eyesight," Mr Ng said. "I realised that there are a lot of things that can be done when children are young, but parents are not aware."

Mr Lee, 42, added: "They think that myopia is something that kids have to go through, and that when they grow up, they can go for Lasik (corrective eye surgery) anyway."

According to the Health Promotion Board (HPB), Singapore tops the worldwide rankings for myopia among seven- to nine-year-olds. By the time they are 18, 80 per cent of young people are short-sighted.

However, simple habits, such as taking a break after half an hour of reading, can help to maintain good eyesight - something the techie duo hope to enforce with their gadget.

Both Mr Ng and Mr Lee come from engineering backgrounds, which helped to bring their vision to life.

"We wanted it to be as simple for kids to use as possible," said Mr Lee, adding that the BookBuddy is designed to be sleek, compact and functional.

To raise funds for their project, the duo started a campaign on crowdfunding website Indiegogo in June, where they managed to raise US$9,350 (S$12,900).

This fell short of their goal of $25,000, but the partners said that the campaign was more of a method for them to raise awareness of their product.

They took their prototype to an educational fair in July to get instant feedback from parents, and plan to officially launch BookBuddy later this month.

Parents liked the product and some asked if it was suitable for use with a tablet such as the Apple iPad.

"Even if you're using the iPad, they will have good posture because of the way the stand is designed," he added.

All the eight people working on the project - from designers to electrical engineers - were sourced from local small businesses.

"There is a lot of expertise around, and what is really needed is for people to harness it," said Mr Lee.

His business partner added: "We took inspiration from brands such as Osim. It started off as a home-grown brand, but look where they are now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Duo design smart bookstand to combat myopia'. Print Edition | Subscribe