A new Google service allows smartphone users to take a picture and submit it as a query to Google’s search engine. The application determines what the picture is and returns a series of results in the phone’s browser. Point the camera at the label on a bottle of wine and Google will return tasting notes.
Google wants to find new ways to get its millions of daily users searching so that it can deliver more adverts alongside the search results. It has already introduced searching by voice and wants to extend the categories of search to “sight”.Executives say that the application, Google Goggles, is a first step in adding a layer of augmented reality to the world around us. It is available only on smartphones using Google’s Android operating system, but will be introduced to other smartphones later.
The Google Goggles application has a database of more than one billion images and can recognise landmarks, CD covers, logos, barcodes, books, shopfronts and business cards. Even then, Vic Gundotra, Google’s vice-president of engineering, admitted that the service was limited.
“Google Goggles works well on certain types of objects in certain categories,” he said. “It is our goal to be able to identify any image.” The application is available as a free download on phones that run on Android.
At a launch at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, south of San Francisco in the heart of Silicon Valley, Google executives said that the new service was part of the company’s drive to usher in a new era of search.
It also revealed improvements to Google search-by-voice and search-by-location services.
Mr Gundotra said that Goggles was the company’s “earliest efforts in the field of computer vision” and he held out the promise of using computers to “augment people’s sense of sight ... When you connect your phone’s camera to data centres in the cloud, it becomes an eye to see and search with.”
He demonstrated Goggles by taking a photo of an image of the Itsukushima Shrine in Japan. The uploaded photo returned a description of the shrine on his mobile phone.
Google said that the technology can recognise faces and that, in theory, a user could take a picture of a person to work out who they are. However, the company has not included facial recognition at this stage while it deals with the privacy issues involved.
Mr Gundotra said: “We still want to work on the issues of user opt-in and control. We have the technology to do the underlying face recognition, but we decided to delay that until safeguards are in place.”
Google’s move is part of its drive to reinvent search for the mobile web. People with mobile phones can find it frustrating to type words into a search box, so companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! are seeking ways to allow them to search by voice and now by image.
Google still dominates the internet search market, boasting a global share of about 70 per cent share globally.