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Nipping myopia in the bud

(Jan. 2023) Myopia is becoming a major healthcare issue worldwide. By 2050, half of the world will be short-sighted.

This forecast is from Mo Dirani, an authority on myopia.  And increasingly, he says, the ailment develops early in life. Eyesight nowadays begins to deteriorate during childhood.

        Dirani is also a marathoner. While out running one day, he realized he was straining his eyes to read a message on his smartphone. Not ideal, but that’s when it struck him that digital devices can be part of the solution even though with their small screens, they can also contribute to the development of myopia.

        Supported by Huawei, he went about creating an app, Plano, that tracks how close users keep their phones from their eyes. The app also flags poor viewing habits that can be harmful to eyesight, such as using a device in a dark room.

Mo Dirani

The app is now on the market, supported by the Plano startup, based in Singapore. “The outcome is to try to save sights and empower lives, which is really the vision of Plano,” Dirani says.  

Other than just tracking poor viewing habits, the Plano app has several other features, including location tracking, app and browser blocking, and remote device lock. This helps parent control their children’s device usage even when they are sleeping over at a friend’s home.

        For a small company, Plano has a lot of brainpower behind it. Dirani, who focused on myopia during his PhD studies in Australia, is an associate professor at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. And he is Honorary Principal Investigator at the Singapore Eye Research Institute.

        Also backing Plano is Wong Tien Yin, an ophthalmologist who is Founding Head and Chair of Tsinghua Medicine at Tsinghua University, one of the world’s top universities. Jonathan Crowston, a clinical scientist and Professor of Ophthalmology at Duke-NUS, backs the firm as well. The Plano app is built on the knowledge of these leaders in the eyecare field.

         Huawei played an important role in the app’s development and distribution. Using Huawei App Gallery, with its 580 million active monthly users, has enabled the Plano app to build user loyalty. Launched in Southeast Asia in 2017, the app has been downloaded 500,000 times by parents in 10 countries and regions.

The Plano app

The app was developed with Huawei’s ML Kit, a machine learning developer’s kit offered by HMS Core. ML Kit provides Plano App with its core features, like calculating the distance between a user’s face and the screen, posture, and whether the device is being used in a poorly-lit environment. HMS Core is a suit of app developers’ tools provided by Huawei.

        ML Kit enables Plano to be installed not just on a smartphone but across multiple devices such as a Huawei Watch GT3 or Huawei Watch 3. By using Huawei ID, Plano users can get reports providing a breakdown of their child’s total and hourly screen time, eye-related data, and device usage behavior, across multiple devices.

        Dirani compares the support he got from Huawei to getting critical help during a tough marathon. “At the 34 to 35-kilometer mark, it’s tough, you hit the wall,” he says. “You run alone but you need support.” Completing the launch of the app was only possible by partnering with a giant like Huawei, he says.

        In 2021, Plano won the Best Social Impact App Award and Most Popular App award at the HMS App Innovation Contest (Apps UP). But Dirani feels Plano’s marathon is not over yet. “We have a responsibility to work together collectively to solve some of the biggest social implications of eye health, not just for adults but mostly for our children,” he says. “Then, I would feel that I’ve passed the finish line.”


Learn more about Dirani and the Plano app in this video: