Losing the Street in Streetviews: Google Patents a Walking Stick
Bill Slawski, June 21, 2013
The research and development team at Google doesn't alway focus upon search algorithms. Sometimes their efforts seem more suited to Indiana Jones than Luke Skywalker. In the past year we've seen Google map the Grand Canyon using pack donkeys and a team exploring the depths of the Canyon. Google has been mapping the underwater surfaces of oceans with Streetviews as well. The Amazon Rainforest has also been the target of Google's excursions.
Google has used specialized Streetviews cars to film a wide range of roads around the globe. They've used tricycles to film areas where cars can't go, and they have a page (Cars, Trikes, and More) that shows other ways the search engine captures images, including trolleys, snowmobiles, and cameras sticking up out of backpacks.
So I was a little suprised to see that Google targeted walking sticks with a patent granted to the search engine this week. Then again, the patent tells us:
However, even the use of vehicles such as tricycles or snowmobiles does not offer access to areas where vehicular travel is difficult, such as in rugged areas or areas where roads are not present.
The walking stick in question has one or more cameras at one end, and a "trigger" at the other end, which sets the camera or cameras off when you contact the ground. But it also has more than that. The stick includes an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), a collection of microelectronics that can include gyroscopes, accelerometers, and magnetometers to help identify its location. It likely also uses a GPS sensor, and possibly other sensors as well. That might remind you of my last post here, How Google Now and Phone Sensors Might Change Search as We Know It, in which I wrote about how Google might start taking advantage of a lot of sensor data in mobile devices, and aggregate that data to predict future events.
The IMU sensors can be used when you are indoors and/or GPS isn't available, and can help improve the accuracy of GPS information when you are outdoors.
Here's the patent:
Walking stick with IMU
Invented by Daniel Jason Ratner and Russell Leigh Smith
Assigned to Google
United States Patent 8,467,674
Granted June 18, 2013
Filed: September 21, 2011
An elongated member is provided with one or more imaging sensors, location sensors, and a switch in its bottom end. For example, in an embodiment the elongated member may be a walking stick and the one or more imaging sensors may be one or more cameras Such a walking stick takes pictures of its surrounding environment and keeps records of its location when the switch touches the ground, so that the pictures and location information can be used to create a virtual simulation of the area that a user of the walking stick has walked through.
The images from the patent show a traditional looking camera at the top of the stick, but the patent mentions that other types of imaging sensors could be used as well.
The patent concludes by telling us that while this walking stick device could supply a stream of photos, those could be stitched together virtually to create a video as well.
Such a method of operation is advantageous in that it provides a stable base for the one or more cameras by causing the walking stick to act as a monopod. Moreover, because users will generally have fairly regular strides, pictures of the surroundings of the area surrounding the walking stick will be taken at regular intervals.
This provides for acquiring data which is appropriate for a virtual simulation the environment of the walking stick, because the image data can be transformed and combined to yield an interactive simulation of the environment of the walking stick.
Furthermore, time stamps and location information from a GPS or IMU can improve the quality of the virtual environment data still further, by aiding virtual environment application 240 in combining the pieces of image data into a virtual environment visualization.
When I saw the title to this patent, I was actually taken a little aback with the low tech nature of the invention. But when we start thinking about all of the ways that Google may gather information in the world around us, from Streetview cars, trykes, snowmobiles, backpack cameras, boats, submarines, self-driving cars, Google Glass, and more, it's probably not surprising to see them cover another method that might seem to be much more low key.
Just as Googlebot crawls the World Wide Web, Google is finding new ways to capture and collect information from the world around us.
Given that people from Google engage in activities such as Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Google patented a walking stick. Especially one with sensors in it.