DanKam: Colorblindness "Corrective Lenses" for Your Smartphone

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I'm not colorblind, I'm just "green-weak." At least that's what I tell everyone. I wrote about my color vision problems way back in 2007, explaining my Deuteranomaly, a condition affecting roughly 5 out of every 100 men. There are other forms of colorblindness, but this one is mine. In short, it means that things that other people see as green, I don't -- I see them as brown, or beige, or some other neutral tone. Over the weekend I bought a bunch of glass bottles to put hard cider in. I did not know they were green until I had bottled five gallons of the stuff and taken it to a friend's house.

This is the kind of minor daily embarrassment that a green-weak person takes in stride. "Oh, this sweater is green? I thought it was brown." "Oh, my house is green? I see. How green are we talking?" I've gotten very used to it, and I should emphasize that I can see SOME green (like a big green fir tree) -- it's just that if you add any subtlety to the mix (like tinting a bit of glass), I'm lost.

So I was shocked to see the new DanKam app for Android and iPhone. For three bucks, I have an app that uses my phone's camera and alters the color in realtime, giving me -- for the first time -- a glimpse of "what is green" around me. It basically takes things that are "somewhat green" and makes them VERY GREEN in a way that I can see. (It does the same for red, which in my case is helpful because the only shade of pink I can see is "shocking bubblegum pink.") The app isn't perfect, and it takes some tweaking to get it tuned to your particular needs, but it works. The image at the top of this blog post is an example of DanKam viewing the Ishihara test plates. As app author Dan Kaminsky says:

If you can read the numbers on the left, you're not color blind.

You can almost certainly read the numbers of the right. That's because DanKam has changed the colors into something that's easier for normal viewers to read, but actually possible for the color blind to read as well. The goggles, they do something!

Not only does Kaminsky slip in a Simpsons joke, he's correct -- I can only barely make out the upper plate number on the left (and can't read the lower left plate at all), but I can easily read both plates on the right. This is a big deal.

Kaminsky says the technology is still experimental, but the reviews have been pouring in from around the world -- for anomalous trichromats (most "colorblind" people), this app does help. In a properly lit room, I can hold it up to my holiday sweater and finally see the red and green! It's a minor miracle for those of us who have accepted that we'll lack color vision forever. You can read more about DanKam at Dan Kaminsky's website. It's currently available for Android and iPhone devices (and I assume it also works on the new iPod touch that has a camera).

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December 20, 2010 - 7:03am
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