Blink. Look left. Blink. Look right. Blink. These are some of Eye Buddy’s daily eye exercises. Eye Buddy is a preliminary vision screening app created by Pradipta Chowdhury, a Bangladesh-born, University of Toronto graduate from the neuroscience and psychology program. His sister, Purnashree Chowdhury, is Eye Buddy’s co-founder. She has an MBBS and is currently pursuing a residency in ophthalmology.
“This is like my 37th pair of eyeglasses,” Chowdhury says in an online interview and points to his thick-framed black glasses. “I am fortunate that my dad is an ophthalmologist, so he caught my problem super early,” Chowdhury says. His father is a chief ophthalmologist and the director of Bangladesh Eye Hospital Chattogram.
Envisioning Eye Buddy
When Pradipta Chowdhury moved to Canada for school, he did not have his father to help monitor his vision loss. An eye test later revealed Chowdury’s eyeglass prescription increased. “Eyes are the only human organ that you cannot bring back,” Chowdhury explains. Essentially, eyes cannot be reverted to their initial state. Once a person experiences vision loss, tools like glasses or often expensive laser eye surgeries are used to “correct” one’s vision. “You have to pay pay pay to manage the damage,” Chowdhury adds.
“Eye issues are a universal problem, especially in third-world countries where it can be hard to focus on these issues when there is a list of several other problems,” Chowdhury says, “some may just think [low vision] is my fate and just accept it.” However, low vision problems can decrease one’s quality of life. Problems like dry eyes can become extreme, leading to strong irritation, and burning sensations and there aren’t given solutions, aside from expensive lazy eye therapy. “What if we can help prevent that?” Chowdhury adds, “through early detection, we can help vulnerable populations avoid vision loss problems.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic’s stay-at-home orders, everyone, especially children, are using increasingly more digital screens. “My nephew is glued to YouTube and has two phones and an iPad,” Chowdhury says, “watching him, I had flashbacks to when my own eye problems developed, and for people without an ophthalmologist father, they might not know how serious the problem is.” Chowdhury, like a graduate student, researched the problem and consulted with professionals to help him create his idea to support vision loss in a mobile app called Eye Buddy.
App features and accessibility
Eye Buddy has several easy and user-friendly features like daily eye exercises which provide workouts and involve colourful objects, a guiding voice, phone vibrations and more. The app reminds users to close their eyes for at least a moment to manage daily eye strain. Another feature is vision screening. “These tests identify problems early,” Chowdhury says, “so if problems are serious, there are geolocation tools and a Doctors Dashboard that connects people to an eye care professional.”
Chowdhury ensures that his work is tested, validated, and ultimately connects people to doctors. “Everyday people don’t know things about ophthalmology, our goal is to have a tool that helps them screen for a problem and connect to solutions,” Chowdhury says. He explains that the app uses a worldwide primary eye test called the Snellen test. The app pairs tests and brain optimization techniques that support and improve residual vision. Residual vision is a concept in neuroplasticity that refers to someone’s usable vision (from birth or visual impairment). “We are not making up tests, we are taking validated work and creating an accessible web version,” Chowdhury adds.
Chowdhury has talked with several Toronto health care organizations and non-profits about plans and solutions through Eye Buddy. For example, he plans to distribute an accessible app to elementary students to screen vision impairment early. Eye Buddy also provides a Vision Equity test, for elderly and indigenous individuals at the Vision Loss Rehabilitation Centre.
Sights for success
Eye Buddy connects people to their health. “Imagine you haven’t run in a while, if you continue to train you will improve,” Chowdhury explains. The name of his app “Eye Buddy” is inspired by the idea of a workout buddy for everyone.
“My philosophy is to take help from those who are trying to help me,” Chowdhury says, noting that he brought his idea to UTSC startup incubator, The Hub. At The Hub, he gained mentorship and training through workshops and business consultations.
In January, Chowdhury competed and won the top prize in The Hub’s annual Startup Intake Pitch Competition, where he was awarded seed funding for his idea. “If Eye Buddy can help people around the world, it’s because of The Hub,” Chowdhury says, naming The Hub’s director Gray Graffam and business consultant Donovan Dill. “I had the product but sometimes you need guidance,” Chowdhury adds, “so they helped me with my concept, connecting with partners and taking my solution out into the world.”
Eye Buddy is available in the app store now, find the mobile workout friend here: https://eyebuddy.app/