App Does Math Homework with Phone Camera

There comes a sobering moment in every dad’s life when he realizes he can no longer help much with his kids’ math homework. Well, maybe not every dad. I suppose theoretical physicists do all right.

However, as an unrehabilitated English major, it’s a constant problem for me, so I was excited to read about PhotoMath, a new app that lets you do math homework by simply pointing your phone camera at a textbook. Hoo, boy — the temptation to abuse this thing is awful.

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Launched earlier this week at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in London, PhotoMath is already shooting to the top of the app charts. The software uses optical character recognition technology to read printed equations on a page, then pops up an augmented-reality display that works through captured equations in real time.

So, yeah, you can point your phone at a problem and PhotoMath can solve it for you, most of the time. (The character recognition only works with printed materials — no handwriting.)

But that’s just the baseline tech. Where PhotoMath gets genuinely awesome is in the image capture options. Once you’ve captured a particular equation, PhotoMath can save the image, then generate detailed instructions on how you actually solve the math problem. In other words, with PhotoMath, you can show your work.

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PhotoMath can handle arithmetic expressions, fractions and decimals, powers and roots, and simple linear equations. The creators say the app’s sweet spot is in the general area of middle school math — my problem exactly! — but they hope to ramp up the technology in future iterations.

The app is free for iOS and Windows Phone (Android is en route) and parent company Microblink isn’t looking to make money off PhotoMath directly. Instead, the company hopes to generate interest in its other products and its core real-time optical character recognition technology.

Gotta run, it’s homework time and I have a sixth-grader whose mind is about to blown.