Imagine you are a 14-year-old kid again. You need to do this really difficult math exercise for tomorrow, but have no idea how to do it. What if you could just open an app on your phone, point your camera at your textbook, snap a picture and get the detailed instructions to solve your equation. This is exactly what PhotoMath does. The team is launching this app today at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe in London.
MicroBlink is a text recognition technology company that has been developing a powerful engine for mobile phone cameras for the past two years. The startup is in the business of selling its core technology to companies who might find it useful.
“We are not an educational company, we are promoting our machine vision technology with PhotoMath,” co-founder and CEO Damir Sabol told me in a phone interview before Disrupt.
And this is key to understanding what MicroBlink is all about. PhotoMath is a neat little app, but it’s just one potential use case of MicroBlink’s text recognition engine.
Before PhotoMath, the company worked on PhotoPay, a service to simplify bill payments. Whenever you receive a paper bill, you can scan it and your bank will automatically pay it for you. MicroBlink licensed PhotoPay to 14 different banks around Europe.
So how is this text recognition engine better? First, it works in real-time, meaning that you will get instant feedback on what you are scanning. Second, the company worked a lot on accuracy. While it doesn’t work with handwritten text, MicroBlink believes that the company’s accuracy is simply amazing. Finally, the startup provides ready-to-use SDKs for particular use cases, such as bill payments or equation solving.
“We started developing our technology three years ago. Now, our technology is mature enough, so we are going to develop broader usages with it,” Sabol said.
The company is based in London and Croatia and hasn’t raised any money so far. But now that MicroBlink’s technology is mature, the startup is now focused on growth and product updates. But I’m sure it will easily find a ton of hopeless students to try out its new PhotoMath app.
Judges: Alice Bentinck (Entrepreneur First), Simon Cook (DFJ Esprit), Aliott Cole (Octopus Ventures), Christophe Maire (Atlantic Labs)
Question: This is very neat. It seems like a plot to get a six-year old to finally get a smartphone. The question that I have is whether that’s the basis for a standalone business.
Answer: We started in the banking sector, we have 14 banks using our technology. We have developed this technology over the past three years, and we are already making money now in the enterprise space.
Q: What is your fundamental breakthrough?
A: We created algorithms specifically for mobile devices. We have a product that is called PhotoPay. You scan payment slips. This is the technology that we used to build PhotoMath. PhotoMath goes further when it comes to accuracy and speed. It also showcases our technology.
Q: Does the technology work on static images?
A: We use video frames. We combine the OCR results of these consecutive video frames.
Q: Does it work with handwritten text?
A: Not yet. It works but it’s quite a difficult problem.
Q: In PhotoMath, does it show the steps to solve an equation?
A: Yes, it’s already there.
Q: Are you charging for the technology?
A: We provide a free SDK, and depending of the monetization strategy of our partners, it’s a revenue share or a license per year.