This App Can Solve Handwritten Math Problems

For some students, Mathpix may render math anxiety a thing of the past.

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May 17 2016, 9:00am

Mathpix scanning an equation.

Anyone who has ever stared anxiously at a knotty equation in need of a solution has wished for some kind of ax to cut through the problem. Mathpix, the "first app that can solve math by simply taking pictures of your handwriting" may present that long-needed tool.

Lead developer Nicolas Jimenez posted a demo on Vimeo of Mathpix going through its paces. Users open the app, activating the phone's camera. When held over a wide variety of problems, the app highlights them in green—as the iPhone does when redeeming an iTunes card via camera, for example—then sends them to a server for solutions.

"The process of entering math on a computer is painful and I wanted to find a better way," Jimenez told Motherboard in an email.

He first began working on Mathpix while a math Ph.D. student at Stanford, he said.

"The process of entering math on a computer is painful and I wanted to find a better way."

Jimenez said the Mathpix team teaches "powerful deep learning algorithms to read math by feeding them large amounts of training data," and the app's "algorithms get smarter over time as we get data from users."

Mathpix is used by high school students for algebra and graphing, and calculus students use it "primarily for solving integrals, for which we provide step by step solutions," Jimenez said.

It's easy to assume math teachers and professors might be pretty wary of students having such a potentially powerful app at their disposal, but publisher-provided info indicated that Mathpix "also shows you step-by-step solutions to tricky problems, guiding you to the solution with simple, effective instructions."

Instructors might be more likely to ask students to download the app as a valuable teaching tool, once they're clear on its functions. The engineers and programmers behind the venerable old graphing calculator—still sold, still in use today, yes—may be the ones who need to worry about this kind of innovation.