A new app filters the world to help colorblind people avoid hue confusion

A free app puts a world of color at your fingertips.
A free app puts a world of color at your fingertips.
Image: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger
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Color vision is now just a few clicks away for the nearly 300 million people worldwide affected by colorblindness—as long as they have an iPhone.

Two Microsoft engineers, Tom Overton and Tingting Zhu, teamed up to create an app that lets users correct their vision without the need for expensive special glasses or contact lenses. Instead, a smartphone or tablet can accommodate for any missing colors.

The app, called Color Binoculars, uses the “phone’s camera as a way to translate images,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post.

“It’s an app that helps colorblind people distinguish color combinations that they would normally have trouble telling apart,” Overton, himself colorblind, explains. “For example, since I have difficulty distinguishing between red and green, our app makes reds brighter and greens darker so that the difference is more obvious.”

With the filter on, someone who is red/green colorblind can tell the difference between red and green apples.
Image: Microsoft

The iPhone app applies filters to the image captured by the iPhone’s camera to enhance the difference between colors depending on the type of color blindness. A user can identify their need by toggling through the three options: red/green, green/red, and blue/yellow.

Overton and Zhu first came up with the idea during a 2015 Hackathon at Microsoft. Then the software engineers took their app to Microsoft Garage, where company employees can experiment with personal projects. With resources and guidance from Microsoft, the prototype turned into a full-featured app, since released on the iTunes app store. It works with all screen sizes so iPads are fair game. However, there’s no word on a Windows or Android version yet.

Zhu and Overton say being able to better recognize the actual colors of the external world will make it easier for the colorblind to carry out tasks people with normal vision take for granted like picking out flowers and choosing matching clothes. “When I’m cooking and I need to brown meat, I can bust [the app] out so I can tell when it’s not pink anymore!” Overton says.