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Google Goggles lets you search by sight

Google's latest search innovation lets you perform an internet search by submitting a photograph.

Google's first search engine lets people search by typing text onto a web page. Next came queries spoken over the phone. On Monday, Google announced the ability to perform an internet search by submitting a photograph.

Google Goggles
Vic Gundotra, Google's vice president of engineering, takes a photo of the Itsukushima Shrine in Japan. The Google Goggles feature successfully identified it. (Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

The experimental search-by-sight feature, called Google Goggles, has a database of billions of images that informs its analysis of what's been uploaded, said Vic Gundotra, Google's vice president of engineering. It can recognise books, album covers, artwork, landmarks, places, logos and more.

"It is our goal to be able to identify any image," he said. "It represents our earliest efforts in the field of computer vision. You can take a picture of an item, use that picture of whatever you take as the query."

However, the feature is still in Google Labs to deal with the "nascent nature of computer vision" and with the service's present shortcomings. "Google Goggles works well on certain types of objects in certain categories," he said.

Google Goggles was one of the big announcements at an event at the Computer History Museum in California to tout the future of Google search. The company also showed off real-time search results and translation of a spoken phrase from English to Spanish using a mobile phone.

"It could be we are really at the cusp of an entirely new computing era," Gundotra said, with "devices that can understand our own speech, help us understand others, and augment our own sight by helping us see further".

(Via CNET.com - click for extended coverage)