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Google fits Android for visual search Goggles

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Google has introduced a new visual-search technology for Android phones, giving it the inevitably cutesy name of Google Goggles.

Part of a trio of Monday announcements concerning voice, location, and visual search technologies, Google Goggles matches a photo you take with your Android phone with images in - where else? - Google's data centers. If a match can be made, Goggles provides you with information about the object you just snapped.

The technology also includes text-recognition capabilities so that you can, as an example in an introductory video demonstrates, scan a business card, and move the card's info into your Android address book.

A third capability adds augmented reality to the camera's view, using a combination of the phone's GPS and compass to allow you to scan the scene around you with your phone's camera and have info pop up onscreen about businesses and other sites you view.

Google Goggles is just one example of how the company is tying in-the-wild sensing capabilities of relatively low-power devices such as Android phones into the immense compute power of Google datacenters.

Don't expect a visual-computing revolution overnight, however. Google's introductory blog posting freely admits that such computer vision is still experimental. In its current incarnation, Google says, the Goggles technology works best on books, DVDs, landmarks, logos, contact info, artwork, businesses, products, barcodes, or text. It's "not so good", however, at deciphering shots of animals, plants, cars, furniture, or clothing.

The ad-placement and impulse-buying potential of Google Goggles are obvious. If, for example, you find yourself enjoying a perky bottle of Shiraz, you can snap it and Goggles could quickly present you with not only information about that particular vintage and vintner, but also links to where you could buy comparable wines from Google's ad partners.

The augmented-reality capability could also be an ad bonanza for Google. Point your phone at a camera shop you're strolling by, for example, and Goggles could alert you that one of its photography ad partners was having a sale on point-and-shoots at that very location.

And, knowing Google, don't be surprised if those ads are finely tailored to your previous buying history. If, for example, you recently snagged a $1,500 telephoto zoom lens from an online ad partner, odds are you wouldn't be alerted to the fact that your local shop was touting low-end Canon PowerShots, but instead informed of a today-only sale on a tasty ultrawide zoom lens.

Google Goggles works with phones running Android 1.6 and higher (sorry, iPhone users). It's available now on the Android Market. ®

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