Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Goggling Google Goggles

As at least ten people by now have written to tell me (though Eric the Fruit Bat gets credit for being the first) Google has a project targeted at recognizing things in the physical world and looking them up online, as I wistfully wished for in my September 17, 2011 entry: Google Goggles. I vaguely recall hearing of the product on its first release, which (because it was for Android) was not something I could fool with on Windows.

There’s even a word for the general concept, though it’s not one I would use: augmented reality. I’m not looking for things to augment reality so much as simply document it–but in this age of exaggeration, I guess that’s pretty much the same thing.

Google Googles is a mobile app currently available for Android and iPhone. You aim your smartphone (assuming it has a camera, as virtually all do) at something, and tap a button. The phone takes a photo, and then (I assume) there’s a conversation with the Google mothership to see if the photo resembles anything already in the recognition database. The app is free, at least for Android, and I’ve been having some good fun with it trying to see what its limits are. Here’s my report:

Google Goggles recognized the following things:

  • A bottle of Coke Zero.
  • A conventional painting of Jesus Christ.
  • A conventional painting of St. Francis of Assisi.
  • Two different contemporary paintings of Ben Franklin.
  • A bottle of Campus Oaks Old Vine Zinfandel.
  • The Colonel Sanders portion of the KFC logo. (Without “KFC”.)
  • The Virginia Cavaliers alternate logo.
  • The iconic Rolling Stones tongue logo.
  • The Insane Clown Posse logo.
  • The Dave Matthews Band logo.
  • The Hieroglyphics band logo.

It did not recognize the following things:

  • Me. No clue about my standard publicity photo, as seen in my blog header, even though it’s logged in Google Images.
  • A headshot of Isaac Asimov, also found on Google Images. I guess I don’t feel so bad.
  • QBit. (It states clearly that animals generally aren’t recognized.) It did say that he resembles a poodle, a kitten, and two bunnies. Goggles isn’t the first entity that thought QBit was a poodle, though I won’t mention the kitten part to him.
  • My Celtic peat cross. It said the cross resembled several tall, skinny women dressed in black. I can almost see that.
  • The Nike swoosh. Failed four times. Now that surprised me.
  • A tape measure.
  • A fork. It thought the fork resembled the Statue of Liberty.
  • A knife. It thought the knife resembled a white bunny.
  • A 430-ohm, 2-watt carbon resistor. It thought it resembled the Canadian flag.
  • A cordless telephone handset.
  • My Weber gas grill.
  • A pair of headphones. It said my headphones resembled a wristwatch.
  • A screwdriver, though it did say my screwdriver resembled photos of other screwdrivers.

I’m reasonably happy with this record, considering that Goggles is more a proof-of-concept than anything close to what I want to document (ok, awright already, augment) reality. It does seem to prefer things that are enormously popular. My first suspicion was that Goggles would not recognize anything that did not include OCR-able text, but most of the logos tested have no text, nor did the paintings of Jesus, St. Francis, and Franklin. Goggles had an impression that QBit was a small white animal, and there were flickers of recognition of a screwdriver. So far, so good. Cripes, it’s only 2011.

So. Share your success stories, if you have any. I’m modestly impressed.


  1. Erbo says:

    Hmm…I tried a picture of the IQNavigator logo on the side of a desk pen I got with my new hire orientation. It came back with a result of “Netscape Navigator 9.” At least it got the “navigator” part, which, to be fair, is in a thick sans-serif font, while the “IQ” part is in a thinner, serifed font.

    I tried on the cover of an old ST:TNG paperback, “Q-in-Law.” It came back with another book, this one titled “Infection.” Well, it recognized a book…

    I then tried the UPC code on the back of a back of pistachios from Walmart. It was able to recognize and decode the barcode, but it couldn’t connect it to the product the way something like Redlaser can. When I repeated the process with my copy of the Leaves’ Eyes album Vinland Saga, it decoded the barcode and recognized the album.

    Shooting the front cover of the album also hit paydirt. It also recognized Nightwish’s “Nemo” single (as a German import, no less!), but failed on a more obscure album, the self-titled one by In Tenebris. (OK, In Tenebris was pretty local to Virginia while they were active, and they broke up in 2007…I only know about them through Pandora.)

    Next, I tried a QR code, specifically, the one on the back of my cards. It recognized the code and correctly decoded the URL it represented. It did, however, fail to find anything for the spaceship picture on the front of the card (a Gallente Myrmidon battlecruiser from EVE Online).

    Finally, I tried a stuffed Tux, the Linux penguin. No match, but on a smaller foam-rubber Tux, it recognized the SGI logo on its belly.

    So, kind of a mixed bag. I don’t think Google’s quite built Skynet yet.

    1. Erbo says:

      That should be “the back of a bag of pistachios…” Also, the fact that it matched the barcode for the CD but not the pistachios suggests it may have trouble with store-brand products.

Leave a Reply to Erbo Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *