Google is letting the world use its near-magic technology that helps computers 'see'

Google cloud visionGoogleGoogle Cloud Vision, being used to identify that a person is smiling and that the text on the sign is in Spanish.

Today, Google unleashed a set of tools for app makers that will let apps, robots, and drones “see” — with the help of some Google cloud magic.

It’s called the Google Cloud Vision API, and it’s based on the same “machine learning” technology that underpins the hit Google Photos app.

Thanks to the massive amount of information that users are uploading and its constant crawling of web sites, Google is always getting better at automatically recognising what’s in pictures.

Now, the masterminds behind independent apps can pay for the Google Cloud Vision service and benefit from the fruits of Google’s labour.

Cloud Vision solves a hard computer problem of “seeing.” For instance, your computer can scan and reproduce an image of a mountain or an image of a baby, but to the computer, they look the same: a bunch of pixels. Your computer can’t sift through your photos and find baby photos for you, unless you’ve tagged them “baby.”

Google Photos, on the other hand, does a pretty good job of finding the baby photos. Now, any other app can, too. 

App maker should find lots of uses for this technology: Cloud Vision can help apps recognise things like faces or landmarks for automatic photo tagging, while also using Google’s own SafeSearch technology to filter out inappropriate images. Cloud Vision can also strip text out of images for later analysis, or detect if someone in a photo is smiling or laughing.

Google cloud vision marathonGoogleGoogle Cloud Vision can identify this as a marathon.

For instance, social photo app for brands PhotoFy used an early version of Cloud Vision to sift 150,000 images a day, according to a Google blog entry. With Google Cloud Vision, it was able to pick out and proactively remove pornographic or violent pictures before they made it to a customer’s page. 

To demonstrate the potential, Google released last year a demo of a robot using Cloud Vision to get around:

On the other hand, Google previously announced that Aerosense, a drone company owned by Sony Mobile Communications, is already using Cloud Vision. So it’s not all photo-tagging and cute robots — it’s also going to be used in serious autonomous vehicles. 

Meanwhile, Microsoft is barking up a similar tree with its own Project Oxford APIs, which have already been seen in viral sites like “” There’s a bold future ahead in helping computers figure out how to make sense of the real world.

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