The only certainties in life are death and taxes, or so the old saying goes. You can add to that getting frustrated while a customer service representative tries by telephone to help you set up some piece of computer or electronic equipment.

While it’s not yet possible for a technician to be teleported to your home or office to walk you through the setup in person, an Israeli startup has the next best solution.

Herzliya-based TechSee can take control of your phone’s camera so a technician can see what you’ve bought and guide you through the setup, sending you annotated images via your device as necessary.

TechSee’s latest product, Eve, is a self-serve app that uses augmented reality to overlay visuals onto your phone’s screen and play audio instructions when you point it at whatever you’re having trouble with. That includes everything from your new smart refrigerator to an assemble-it-yourself bedroom set.

The story behind the tech

As with any good origin story, TechSee’s is personal. CEO Eitan Cohen’s parents had phoned their son to ask for help fixing their cable service. But without knowing which set-top box and which model TV his parents had, let alone being able to see which cables were plugged in (or not), Cohen was at a loss.

He knew a video call via an app like Skype or FaceTime would help, but asking his already exasperated parents to download, install and learn how to use one of these apps would be an added challenge.

Cohen instead figured out a way to access the camera by sending a simple link by text message. The link would open in the phone’s browser, which would in turn call up the camera and temporarily “take over” the phone’s screen.

It’s the same approach taken by another company ISRAEL21c has profiled recently: Carbyne, which uses the phone’s camera to help first-responders see what’s going on at the site of an accident.

Cohen teamed up with Amir Yoffe, who would become TechSee’s COO, and Prof. Gaby Sarusi, a former VP at Elbit and a veteran member of the faculty of engineering and nanoscience at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The three launched TechSee in 2015.

They’ve since raised $23 million, opened offices in Boston and Madrid in addition to Israel, and landed some high-profile customers including Vodafone, Samsung, Orange, Hitachi and Salesforce.

Salesforce (through its Salesforce Ventures arm) contributed to a $16 million round last October for TechSee led by Scale Venture Partners; other investors were Planven Investments, Comdata Group and Jerusalem-based OurCrowd.

Salesforce’s vision is that TechSee will be the smart “eyes” of its Einstein artificial intelligence platform, Yoffe tells ISRAEL21c.

Einstein is to Salesforce what Watson is to IBM – a massive computer running AI to help make sense of enormous amounts of data. Watson may compete on TV’s “Jeopardy,” but Salesforce is the world leader when it comes to selling customer relationship management software. Einstein crunches its customers’ data to deliver predictions and recommendations.

The opportunity for TechSee is the many Salesforce customers who use its software to assist consumers with technical problems.

A customer-service rep, for example, can use TechSee’s “Live” product to capture still and video images for real-time analysis by Einstein. What’s that flashing LED or error code #42? Einstein will search its database to determine the best course of action.

The results are displayed on top of the agent’s view through the consumer’s phone, using the same kind of augmented reality consumers get from Eve.

TechSee is already integrated with a similar AI tool at Vodafone called Tobi that enables technicians to remotely diagnose problems with telecommunications devices. And TechSee can do the same magic using any customer’s knowledge base, even without Einstein or Tobi.

TechSee has been selling Live for a couple of years already and has 50 customers. “Every one of them is a big name that you know,” Yoffe says.

TechSee’s tools are being used by some 15,000 customer-service agents across verticals including financial services, telecom and insurance.

Why insurance? Imagine that your basement has flooded. With TechSee, you can show your insurance agent the damage by walking around with your phone. The benefits are twofold: it saves the insurance company the cost of sending out an assessor and, for the homeowner, claims can be processed in hours rather than days.

Eve knows

Eve is where TechSee’s technology really snaps to life, so to speak.

“Eve was the first human being that not only saw with her eyes but gained understanding – after she bit the apple,” Yoffe points out.

The technological Eve removes the agent from the picture entirely, overlaying “knowledge” – in this case, instructions from a company’s knowledge base – directly on consumers’ phones as they explore their new purchase.

“Forty percent of people cannot install the technical devices they buy for their homes on their own,” Yoffe says.

Eve builds on the experience gained through TechSee Live. Every time an agent receives, tags and annotates a visual from a customer, TechSee’s algorithms are learning. Millions of media files have been processed already. “It’s an easy way to get the data without a lot of effort,” Yoffe says.

Eve is free for consumers. The companies that provide the tool pay a fee based on the number of agents using TechSee. A minimum commitment of a year is required. “It’s a premium solution that boosts customer satisfaction,” Yoffe says.

Cohen isn’t too worried about possible competition from companies like Amazon, which is already experimenting with providing fashion advice to customers based on what its Echo Look camera can see. He says the sheer number of images TechSee has already accumulated, down to specific model numbers, gives it a big head start.

There may be room for everyone. Cohen estimates there are 2 million customer-service agents in the United States and about 14 million globally.

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