Envision brings the visual world to life for blind people

Checking the time, buying something in the supermarket or simply spotting a friend from afar. All these require sight. Using artificial intelligence, Karthik Mahadevan’s (27) company, Envision, makes visual information accessible to the visually impaired.

Founders Karthik Mahadevan and Karthik Kannan: “Envision is a smartphone app that enables users to convert images into speech.” (Photo: Envision)

Envision is a smartphone app that enables users to convert images into speech, making visually impaired individuals more independent. The app can, for example, describe scenes, people and read letters or street signs aloud.

Industrial design graduate, Karthik Mahadevan, decided to develop the tool after giving a lecture at a school for the blind in India. “I explained that as a designer I look for solutions to problems and I asked the students what problem they wanted to solve. Each of them said that they wanted to be more independent. By this they meant having access to information, visual information. That really struck me. If this is such a big problem, why am I not doing something about it?” The idea behind Envision was born.

‘I never learnt to design from an audio perspective at TU Delft’

Designing something for people with very limited to no sight proved to be a challenge. Mahadevan: “I never learnt to design from an audio perspective at TU Delft. Design was always visual. You can put on a blindfold or turn your screen black, but you are still biased. If you hear the word ‘button’, an image will form in your mind. The experience of truly being unable to see is hard to imagine. That is why we are involving visually impaired people in the development process. At the end of the day they are the experts. They are the people who we are doing this for.”  

A picture of a person using Envision app on their smartphone to read details on a milk carton.

Something Mahadevan wishes he knew when he started his company is that a great idea still needs great marketing. “We are a team of engineers who are very interested in the developmental aspect. It is so easy for us to keep building new, cool features and not look at  promotion. That has not been great for our company. Currently, we are actively looking for someone to help us out. I would advise any future entrepreneur to not underestimate the importance of marketing and hire someone from the start.”

How does the Envision App work? 

To understand how Envision works it helps to know how visual impaired people operate smartphones. Using – most often – the home button on a smartphone, one can ‘scroll’ through the phone and will hear a description of everything happening on the screen, from the status of your battery level to which app is selected. Envision enables users to take a photo of anything, after which the app describes what it sees in the picture using artificial intelligence. For example, if you take a photo of a table with a laptop on it, the app will tell the user: ‘that looks like a table with a laptop on it’. 

  • Study: Industrial Design Engineering
  • Founders: Karthik Mahadevan (27) and Karthik Kannan (26)
  • Number of employees: 6
  • Turnover: €50,000 (year-to-date)
  • Target consumers: People with visual impairment
  • Five years: Everyone in the world has an Envision device which truly enhances their vision and life.