Cellphones go into visual search mode

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    A new visual search engine will allow users to price various items by taking of picture of them with their phone.
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The next generation of camera phones, already big in Japan, comes equipped with a visual search engine that could transform e-commerce. Hold one up to a movie poster, for example, and it will scour the Internet to bring you a video of the trailer and a link to buy tickets. Scan a product inside a store and get prices from other outlets for instant comparison shopping.

“Our visual-pattern recognition algorithm will recognize what you took a picture of, and then advertisers will use that to push relevant content to your cellphone,” explains Paolo Pirjanian, CEO of Evolution Robotics in Pasadena, Calif., which developed “ER Search.”

For marketers, the visual search offers a tangible advantage: They’ll be able to calculate the success of an ad campaign by how often people transmit pictures of the product.

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Mr. Pirjanian estimates ER Search will be embedded on 15 million to 20 million Japanese cellphones by year’s end. He expects mass adoption in the United States by 2010.

In the long term, Pirjanian imagines a broader scope for visual search engines. “You have all these ‘street views’ now, thanks to companies like Google,” he says. “If you took a picture of a location, you could match it against the street views and find exactly where you’re standing on a street.”

Within the next 10 years, he says, you’ll be able to hold up your cellphone and it will visually tag everything in front of you – much like the robot’s point of view in the Terminator movies. Thankfully, this will be a different sort of killer app.

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