HAMBURG, Germany – With interest in its online system for provision of remote technical guidance booming amid the coronavirus pandemic, Indian startup BlinkIn is seeking external investment for the first time.
BlinkIn came to public attention when technicians from German company Huber & Ranner used the app to guide workers setting up the ventilation system in a specialty hospital built in 10 days in late January in Wuhan, China, then the isolated global center of the coronavirus pandemic.
The app has continued to pick up steam as social distancing measures and travel restrictions have spread around the world.
Staff from German pump maker Wilo last month used BlinkIn to guide a plumber to fix the water pressure in one of the company’s systems installed at a retirement home in Brescia, a city at the center of Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak where many elderly were dying.
The plumber pointed his smartphone camera at the pump system and Wilo staff 80 km away in Milan directed him with written and oral instructions to locate a relay that turned out to be broken.
The app’s augmented reality functions allowed Wilo’s drawings and annotations to be visually attached to appropriate places in the images filmed by the plumber.
“Even under lockdowns and social distancing, we can get close to the client,” said Peter Glauner, senior vice president at Wilo. “The business case is strong, and we are considering sub-licensing the system to our worldwide net of sub-contractors.”
BlinkIn, founded in Bangalore two years ago by Indian programmer Harshwardhan Kumar and German entrepreneur Josef Suess, has seen monthly inquiries from companies interested in licensing its system increased eight-fold since the pandemic started. A licensee’s clients, like the Brescia retirement home, get the app for free.
BlinkIn is now seeking 2 million euros ($2.17 million) from investors to scale up its offerings.
The money will mainly be used for the development of an artificial intelligence-backed “visualbot,” a more sophisticated chatbot that would automatically analyze video streamed from a client’s smartphone and provide guidance, further reducing the need for human technical support.
“Media coverage on our contribution in Wuhan created a lot of awareness for us,” Suess said. “Our own cash flow does not suffice for scaling up distribution and product development quickly enough to react to the sudden rise in COVID-driven demand.”
Blinkin expects the visualbot will help it to expand its reach. German automobile drivers’ association ADAC has discussed using the visualbot to help members with roadside breakdowns, a service that costs the group 400 million euros a year. A German insurer has inquired about deploying the visualbot with clients documenting property claims.