PhotoMath Phone App Solves Math Problems, Shows Steps

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A new app by Microblink is helping students do their math homework using their phone’s camera.

The PhotoMath app that can complete math equations simply by “seeing” the problem through a camera lens was announced this week at TechCrunch Disrupt in Europe.

The app, currently available as a free download for iOS and Windows Phone, works by the user pointing the phone’s camera at a math equation, either in a textbook or on a computer screen, so long as there is printed text (handwritten text is not supported yet).  If the app is able to solve the problem, it will do so automatically, using optical character recognition (OCR) technology.

The app even shows its work step-by-step to show how the problem can be solved by hand.  This last step is especially beneficial for those students who may not be able to afford a tutor and struggle with their math homework.  The app may also be useful for parents who need a refresher while helping their children complete school assignments.

An Android version is expected in early 2015.

In a trial run, Yahoo! Tech found the app to be able to solve some simple “solve for x” equations, although not the multiple variable equations they tried.  For now, the app only works with fractions, decimal numbers, linear equations and functions such as logarithms.  Microblink does plan to add more sophisticated capabilities in new app releases, but stresses that the app is not meant to be a learning tool, and that they are willing to license the technology to others.

“We are not an educational company; we are promoting our machine vision technology with PhotoMath,” MicroBlink co-founder and CEO Damir Sabol told TechCrunch.

A separate trial by Amit Chowdhry for Forbes found the camera mistaking the “x” variable as the multiplication symbol, and the red frame in which the equation needs to be placed in order to be “seen” may not always be able to capture the problem due to spacing issues on the textbook page.

MicroBlink plans to use the technology from the app to create other future apps for online banking.  The company currently works with customers across 30 countries, helping them utilize “computer vision technology” on their own apps.  The company has put its PhotoPay technology to use for several major European Union banks, eliminating the need for manual data entry for bill payments.  MicroBlink is also responsible for the app PDF417 Barcode Scanner, which allows users to scan 1D barcodes, 2D barcodes, or QR codes.

The company’s other photo-recognition apps can be purchased as a software development kit rather than as standalone apps.