TheBlindGuide acquires UPenn startup ThirdEye, bringing computer vision to the visually impaired

There’s nothing quite like the atmosphere of a college hackathon. Amidst the free t-shirts and apps to help you find parties on campus always lie a few hidden gems for those with the patience to hunt. ThirdEye, one of those gems forged out of PennApps, UPenn’s hackathon, is being acquired today by TheBlindGuide for an undisclosed sum. Started by three current Penn students, ThirdEye brings object recognition to mobile to help the visually impaired.

Originally created as an add-on for the now obsolete Google Glass, the ThirdEye of today exists as a mobile app. It uses Google’s Cloud Vision API to identify objects and read their descriptions aurally. Users can also snap photos of text and have it converted to speech.

[gallery columns="2" ids="1452591,1452590"]

Team members Rajat Bhageria, Ben Sandler, Daniel Hanover and Nandeet Mehta, spent a lot of their time leveraging their student status to build out relationships with organizations supporting the visually impaired. A lot of these partners ended up becoming distribution channels for getting their service to market.

They spent a lot of time hashing out a business plan, ultimately settling on a fremium model in the U.S. of $8 per month after a period and a free model internationally. At the time of the sale, ThirdEye only had about 500 monthly active users. But Bhageria says that, though the acquisition is small, he is proud that development will continue on the project.

After the fall of glass, the group mulled over the idea of building its own hardware. In contrast to the stereotypical hot-shot college dropouts, everyone on the ThirdEye team wanted to graduate. This meant that there was only so much time to go around when it came to learning the medical device regulatory and insurance landscape.

TheBlindGuide is an e-commerce retailer serving the blind and visually impaired communities. The ThirdEye team will not be joining the company. Instead, TheBlindGuide will hire visually impaired and disabled programmers — building tools for the impaired by the impaired.

Like any self-respecting founder fresh off an exit still contemplating next steps, Bhageria is piecing together his own venture fund to keep active. In the spirit of the decentralized Contrary Capital, his new project, Prototype Capital, supported by high-net-worth individuals. Bhageria wants to give mainstays like Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures a run for their money on the college startup seed-financing circuit. The idea is that investors across a large number of campuses would get access to more deal flow and be able to offer perks like legal help and office space to entice entrepreneurs.