Google Patents Way to Deliver Zoom By Giving You Someone Else’s Photo

When tourists visit famous landmarks, they commonly pull out their own cameras to snap some photographs as mementos, even if they themselves aren’t in the picture. Despite the fact that there’s almost always guaranteed to be an identical photograph taken by someone else, somewhere online, there’s something about capturing the moment for oneself that makes redundant photos special.

That’s why a new patent filed by Google is a bit puzzling. It’s called “Image zooming using pre-existing imaging information” and, as the title suggests, revolves around using other people’s photographs to “boost” a digital camera’s zoom.

Here’s the abstract, or simplified explanation, of the patent:

Aspects of the invention pertain to enhanced zooming capability of user devices. A user device such as a mobile phone with a camera may capture images of different objects of interest. The capture and zooming limitations of the user device are overcome by replacing, supplementing or otherwise enhancing the image taken with one or more geo-coded images stored in a database. For instance, if the user attempts to zoom in on a feature of an object of interest and exceeds the zooming capability of the user device, a request is sent to a remote server to provide an image showing the feature of the object of interest at a desired resolution. The server determines which, if any, stored images correlate to the captured image of the object of interest. The resulting imagery is provided to the user device and is presented on a display.

Here’s how it’d work: let’s say you’re snapping a photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge from a beach nearby. You try to zoom in to capture one particular portion of the iconic structure, but suddenly find yourself at the end of your camera/phone’s zooming ability.

Have no fear — Google is here. The technology would quickly do a search online — presumably in Google’s private archives — to see if there is any identical image that matches what you’re trying to photograph. If the position, orientation, zoom, and direction match up, then Google beams the replacement photo to your camera. Voila! Instant zoom! Everyone’s happy!

Well… not really.

As I mentioned earlier, the big obstacle this feature would need to get over is the fact that people aren’t capturing their own photographs, but re-capturing photos that were taken by someone else. For simple information gathering purposes this might suffice, but it seems unlikely that it’s something tourists (or the general public) would readily embrace.

(via USPTO via Engadget)

Image credit: Photo illustration based on 265/365 – Olympic Memories by kennymatic

  • gebp79

    I think this may be oriented in giving Google Maps more “zooming” power. Why bother sending an photo-army to streets, when non-google employees are already gathering those zommed snaps.

  • Nathan Blaney

    If google implements this, I think it’ll make a solid case for big, ugly watermarks on everything photographers post online.

  • Nik Sargent

    It doesn’t really limit it to capturing the picture. this is actually quite clever, allowing your device (not necessarily a camera) to see beyond its limits. It might have educational purposes (e.g. think of pointing it at the sky) or allow you look in a specific direction (e.g. think of standing on a the top of a mountain and looking out to see where a particular landmark (e.g your house) is). These are interesting “moments” for people and do not necessarily involve capture of the photograph, or at least not necessarily the zoomed element. Digital binoculars anyone?

  • 9inchnail

    Why would anyone complain about this feature? See it as an augmented reality application with the only difference that you can snap photos of that augmented reality. In theory this would enable you to do really creative shots. It’s not what it’s supposed to do but imagine going to a landmark in summer, taking a shot and be provided with a shot of the same location in winter. You could do partial overlays and really funky stuff. Or you come back to a location in 10 or 20 years and take a photo and combine it with older pictures of that scene.

  • Richard

    That’s an excellent guess and no doubt enough people will participate in this to make the data pretty rich.

  • Alan Dove

    Exactly. Google is in the business of finding and repackaging information, and this is just bringing that concept to the visual world. On the other hand, I’m surprised the patent office granted this – it seems to fail the “non-obvious” criterion.

  • Roy

    Not quite sure about the legalities pertaining to this concept, and not wanting to get overly dramatic about it, but wouldn’t using/repurposing a picture obtained by “quickly do[ing] a search online” potentially constitute a copyright infringement?

  • Michael Zhang

    Added a small note to the text. I’m assuming the images won’t be taken without permission from random people through the web, but rather from Google’s private collection/database.

  • Mark

    This will most likely open Google up to a huge number of copyright infringement lawsuits, especially if they start using photos taken by pro photographers…ie, the ones that place their images on Google+.
    Google does NOT own the rights to anyone’s photos, and should be bound by the same copyright regulations as everyone else.
    And when the vast majority of the public using Google and Google + actually READ the terms of use, and find out what Google is stealing from them, and stop posting their images on these sites, will problems like these start to fade away.
    Facebook is another great one for doing this…you post a photo there, they own it, and can do whatever they like to it…including making big $$$ from it if they feel like reselling it.If you’re in the businesss of photography (as my wife and I are), and start doing this, you might as well go right to the oor house, as you”re giving away your earnings.