It has emerged that Google could have plans to expand its search engine beyond static text, following the publication of a patent application made in June.
The application concerned technology that recognises text in images. It could be used to retrieve text from video or photographs. Google is seeking the patent for methods, systems and computer programs that extract image text.
The technology is able to search a collection of keywords extracted from text and retrieve an image associated with the extracted text. The digital images that it initially focuses on include illustrations of landscapes, people, urban scenes and other objects.
"Image text typically includes text of varying size, orientation and typeface," the application noted. "Text in a digital image derived, for example, from an urban scene (a city street scene) often proves information about the displayed scene or location. A typical street scene includes, for example, text as part of street signs, building names, address numbers and window signs."
Duncan Riley, a blogger at TechCrunch, noted that if Google really had found a way to index text in static images and video, it would be “a great leap forward in the progression of search technology. This will make every book in the Google Books database really searchable, with the next step being YouTube, Flickr and more."
Adam Ostrow, a blogger at social networking site Mashable, said that potential applications of text recognition technology go beyond Google's existing products. "Google could start photographing the aisles of stores to create product indexes with vast amounts of data," he wrote in a blog post.
However, Ostrow noted that the amount of manpower needed to capture complex data, including nutritional information and price, would be hefty.
"Google Street View provides a fair amount of photos for major metropolitan areas, but it would seem that creating meaningful search products that utilise text recognition technology would require far deeper and more precise imagery," he said. "It sounds challenging, but perhaps not impossible with 15,000-plus employees at the company's disposal."