Microsoft this week revealed that it is at work on a way to search the Internet using photos captured by cell phone cameras.
So rather than typing in an Internet search query, someone can e-mail Microsoft a photo of what theyre searching for. Photo2Search, as Microsoft calls the nascent feature, returns Web pages either with information about the objects in the photo, or sites that contain similar images.
Microsoft is the latest example of how search engines continuously try to expand Internet searchs utility, whether by using cell phone text messages to make inquiries as most search engines now allow, or using photos as is the case at Microsoft.
News of Photo2Search comes a few days after Google, which views Microsoft as a chief rival, learned it received a patent for an alternative way to search the Internet using spoken words, rather than written text.
At Microsoft, the goal of the research is to augment the usual text inquiries a search engine processes with the details captured by photos. That combination makes for much more useful search results, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft is also building link between its search engine and the billions of people that now own cell phones, and the growing number of those devices that contain cameras.
Cell phone operators have so far overlooked the "the value of camera phones on daily information acquisition," Microsoft researchers Xing Xie writes of the projects impetus.
In mid-May, Xie and other Microsoft researchers will present a research paper, "Photo-to-Search: Using Camera Phones to Inquire of the Surrounding World" at a mobile data management conference in Nara, Japan.