10 Weird Patents That Google Owns

Image-capturing Walking Stick
Google has a patent that cleverly hides a camera within a walking stick. © Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis

One of Google Maps' most appealing features is its online collection of street-level photographic panoramas, which allow users to roam neighborhoods across the U.S. and in other countries as well. In addition to the usual street scenes, Google has begun posting 360-degree images of hiking trails in North America, which its photographers have shot using cumbersome backpack-mounted cameras.

In 2013 however, Google was granted a patent for a device that would make shooting such landscapes far easier. The application, titled "Walking Stick with IMU [inertial measurement unit]," basically is just that — a staff with embedded cameras and location sensors, coupled with a switch at the bottom that causes the cameras to snap pictures whenever the stick taps the ground.

While the gadget could be used by Google's own photographers, the patent application notes that similar technology could be repurposed in canes, crutches and other mobility devices used by disabled people. This would allow them to shoot and transmit pictures while their hands were otherwise occupied or if they had a condition that made it difficult to operate a camera [sources: Bishop, Ratner and Smith].