Google Patents a Visual Sensor

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It’s not related to search, or to SEO, but it’s one of the more unusual and interesting patents that I’ve seen come out of Google in a while, and Google Founder Sergey Brin is listed as one of the co-inventors. Google was granted a patent today on a visual sensor device that could allow someone to view their surroundings through their hands or other parts of their body, with a detector that might be channeled to a wearable display.

This new patent might in part explain why Google acquired the patent I described in “Google Acquires Swimming Goggle Patent.” While the swimming goggle patent is interesting in its own right, and I’d love to see a version that could be used when jogging or bicycling, it’s also the kind of wearable viewing display that could be used with this alternative visual sensor.

As a device on a glove, a control for the viewing device might be built into the glove so that a predetermined motion might trigger the use of the viewing detector. The patent allows for the visual sensor to be located elsewhere on a body as well, so for example, the idea of having eyes in the back of your head might not be unreasonable.

This visual sensor might include a camera or other viewing device, could be configured to detect light from infrared or ultraviolet lith or x-rays. It could have a three-dimensional spatial range and possibly perform image processing and analysis on recorded images. It might also have a stabilizing function like many modern cameras do to stablize images. Also like a camera, it might come equipped with a flash or another method of illumination.

An alternative example described in the patent would include a motion detector and an accelerometer and/or a gyroscope. Motions might be useful in running applications such as word processing, running a spreadsheet, or an email application.

Another description of a different implementation of this visual sensor could include more than one detector so that the relative motions of the detectors could be used in applications such as communicating in American Sign Language or simulating typing upon a keyboard.

The patent provides more details on how a wearable visual sensor like this could be used. The patent is:

Seeing with your hand
Invented by Liang-Yu Chi, Robert Allen Ryskamp, Luis Ricardo Prada Gomez, Harvey Ho, and Sergey Brin
Assigned to Google
US Patent 8,009,141
Granted August 30, 2011
Filed: March 14, 2011


The disclosure describes methods and systems for gathering and conveying information, for example, such as with a hand of a user. In one embodiment, the method may include using a detector to record a series of images of an environment and detecting a predetermined motion by comparing two or more images in the series. The method may include selecting a function based on the predetermined motion and triggering the function.

In another embodiment, the method may include using a first detector to record a first series of images of an environment and using a second detector to record a second series of images of an environment.

The method may include detecting a predetermined relative motion by comparing one or more images from the first series with one or more images from the second series, and selecting and/or triggering a function based on the predetermined relative motion.

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12 thoughts on “Google Patents a Visual Sensor”

  1. I think that this could be best used in games and even medicine. Well, Google is not missing any opportunity as I see.

  2. Hi Bill,

    It’s an interesting concept – a combination of accelerometer to understand gestures and camera’s to visualise what’s at the end of your hand.

    Maybe reading over the google goggles patent again has affected me but this would be great for use underwater. I would imagine that recording data under water would be a bit of a nightmare (I’ve never met someone who is brave enough to use an iPad in the bath) and combining the gestures as an input mechanism and the camera in the end of the glove to extend the range of visibility in non-clear water would seem like a fairly good approach.

    The patent doesn’t mention an under water application but it does give a pretty hefty get out clause:
    ‘While various aspects and embodiments have been disclosed herein, other aspects and embodiments will be apparent to those skilled in the art.”
    Which I’ll can only take as encouragement!

  3. On a purely practical level, the idea of having rear facing vision or “eyes in the back of your head” brings to mind countless applications. The simulation of typing on a keyboard also seems to be loaded with everyday potential in conjunction with a shift to wireless web based services.

  4. This would be something like a third eye? That’s incredible. Imagine the possibilities!

    You could watch what is inside a box by inserting your hand on the box. Or see if people are laughing at you when you pass. Or see a lady from two different angles while having sex! LOL

    But the medicine alternative exposed by Dan up there is the most relevant, i guess.

  5. I can’t wait to see what this is used for. I can only picture it being in a movie.

    I know people who use their iPad in the bath but never under the water.

  6. @michael – I once used my iPhone 3g in the bath – the screen got all steamy and wouldn’t work properly for a week. It’s never really been right since….

  7. Hi Tom,

    I was imagining a number of possible uses for this, from military and policing and firefighting functions to industrial uses including building jets and other complex machinery, inspecting homes, and more. In addition to camera and accelerometer, the patent also mentions the addition of lights of different kinds including infrared and xrays. So, things like nightvision, thermal imaging and more are also possibilities.

    In some ways this visual and motion sensor combined with something like Google’s swimming goggles could become Brin & Pages take on the tricorder or Terminator vision.

    I’ve owned some point-and-shoot cameras that have claimed to be waterproof up to a certain distance underwater, but I just can’t bring myself to submerge them.

    That get out clause is pretty standard language for patents, but it does mean that there are lots of other related things that we can do, but we only have so much room in the patent to describe them all. :)

  8. Hi Dan,

    I know that simulator games are growing in practical applications in many fields, such as flight training (some evolution. from game to actual training for flight). I could envision this possibly being useful in surgery.

    I’m still reading In the Plex, and just read a passage that says that Google is even working on patents for things that seem like science fiction. Guess we have an example, here.

  9. Hi Kevin,

    There do seem like there could be many different practical applications for this kind of technology. I’d be happy to test some of those applications.

  10. Hi Neto,

    Medicine sounds reasonable, but I could see the military or police being very interested in using devices that might be based upon something like this as well.

  11. Hi Michael,

    You’ve reminded me that Apple did try to use tablet style computers showing in the movie 2001 as prior art in a patent infringement lawsuit recently.

    There’s another movie, based upon a true story, about a stage coach robber who was in prison for a long period, and upon release embarked upon a new career robbing trains, which weren’t around before he was imprisoned. He saw his first train (and train robbery) in a movie – the Great Train Robbery.

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