Image recognition technology can seem like the stuff of science fiction. It might bring to mind futuristic spy movies where the heroes have gadgets they can use to identify anything and everything just by looking at it. Current technology isn't quite that advanced yet...but you might be surprised by how much you can do with the image recognition tools that are available right now!
In this post I will discuss a variety of websites and smartphone apps that use image recognition technology to help you identify a wide range of things--famous landmarks, currency, photos you've found on the Internet, fonts, and more.
Amazon Flow (available as a standalone app for iPhone and Android, also integrated into the Amazon app for iPhone)
Amazon Flow allows you to use your phone's camera to scan items and find them for purchase on Amazon.com. Just move the camera over the item and Flow will look it up, usually within a few seconds. You can even scan multiple items one right after another and Flow will save them to a search history so you can save them or add them to your Amazon shopping cart later.
Google Googles (available for Android and as part of the Google Search app for iPhone)
Google Goggles is an app that will recognize objects in pictures taken on your mobile phone. It works best on things like landmarks, product labels, corporate logos, famous artwork, and the covers of books or DVDs. It can also recognize the text in an image and even translate it for you into another language. Perhaps one of the most amazing features of Google Goggles is that if you take a picture of a Sudoku puzzle, the app can automatically solve the puzzle for you.
Google Search by Image (http://images.google.com/)
If you have an image file saved on your computer (or have a link to an image file online), you can use Google Search by Image to find other copies of the same image or similar images online. Based on the keywords associated with these images when they are found on websites, Google can also often make a good guess at what is in the picture.
To search, just drag your image file to the search box, or click on the camera icon to browse for a file on your computer or paste a link to an online image. Google Search by Image gives the most accurate results when the image you're searching with is something that has been widely shared on the Internet. It does not work very well with your own personal photos. If you search with an image and Google cannot determine what it is, your search will just return pictures that are similar in color scheme to the original image.
LeafSnap (available for iPhone and iPad only)
The LeafSnap app can help you identify a tree simply by taking a picture of one of its leaves. It will give you a list of the trees that are the closest matches to the leaf you photographed, along with detailed images of various other features of each tree so it's easy to confirm whether you have the right species. Unfortunately, right now this app only covers trees found in the northeastern United States, so it may not be able to identify all of the trees you might find in other areas of the country.
LookTel (http://www.looktel.com/, available for iPhone, iPad, and Mac)
LookTel produces apps for Apple devices which are designed to allow people with blindness or low vision identify everyday objects by holding the objects up to the device's camera. The Money Reader app can identify 21 different currencies and will read the denomination aloud. The Recognizer app can identify a wide range of objects, such as packaged food, credit cards, and DVDs--although you must first create a library of images and names for the app to draw identification information from, by taking a clear photo of each object you want the app to be able to identify and telling the app what it is.
WhatTheFont (http://www.myfonts.com/WhatTheFont/, also available as an iPhone app
If you've ever seen a cool font on a website, poster, or billboard and wished you knew what font it was so you could use it in your own projects, WhatTheFont may be useful to you. All you have to do is take a clear picture, scan or screenshot of the text whose font you want to identify and upload it to the site. WhatTheFont will then attempt to automatically identify the font for you. This site does not work at all on text where the letters are touching, but otherwise it seems to do a pretty good job identifying fonts accurately.
I hope you will find these tools interesting and useful!