Searching Databases with the 5 Senses: Beyond Searching with Words

The intellectual property search field really opened my eyes to how database searching isn’t just limited to keyword searches.  Sometimes, you need to go beyond searching only with words…you can search by drawing chemical structures to find patents mentioning similar compounds, or you can find similar designs or logos through a reverse image search.  If searching with visual elements is possible, then is there also technology that allows people to search through a database using other physical senses? Here are a few examples of tools allowing users to search by visual, auditory, tactile, taste, and scent criteria:

  • Sight – This is the easy one…reverse image searching is very common, especially using Google Images.  For Google, it’s as simple as uploading a photo or entering a URL for an image to find a list of matching or similar images.  The Pinterest Visual Search Tool has the added interesting feature of allowing you to zoom in and only search for a specific part of an image. Check out this video and presentation When image, colour and texture is content: the potential of visual search for an interesting case study of making 3 million designs from the

    UK Board of Trade Design Register visually searchable.

     

    pin
    Visual search tool on Pinterest.

  • Hearing – Technology to search by sound also seems to be relatively established, with apps like “Soundhound (previously Midomi), Doreso and others […] using a simple algorithm to match an acoustic fingerprint to a song in a library.”  Of course, Google also has its own sound search app.
  • Touch – For tactile search to exist, first we would need computer screens that allow users to “feel” specific textures and sensations.  Haptic engineering (according to Discover magazine) “focuses on applying tactile stimulation to our interactions with computers”, and this engineering field may lead to a future where we can search for and share textures and sensations with each other online.  I was only able to find one example of actual tactile search technology in a fascinating paper describing Twech: A Mobile Platform to Search and Share Visuo-tactile Experiences.
  • Taste/Smell – I wish Google Nose really existed, but unfortunately that was just a brilliant April Fool’s joke.  Searching by actual taste and smell doesn’t seem to be a realistic technology yet, but some databases do exist where users can search for the chemical components behind flavors and scents.  For example, BitterDB allows users to search “over 550 compounds that were reported to taste bitter to humans.”  You can also search for perfumes by “notes”, like citrus smells, flowers, woods, mosses, and more.

The technology is already available for image and sound-based searching, and we may soon be able to share and search tactile sensations over mobile devices.  I still look forward to the day when I can search for anything tasting like banana pancakes through Google…I’m sure that day is closer than we expect.

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