Google Lookout: App reads grocery labels for blind people

Google's AI can now identify food in the supermarket, in a move designed to help the visually impaired.

It is part of Google's Lookout app, which aims to help those with low or no vision identify things around them.

A new update has added the ability for a computer voice to say aloud what food it thinks a person is holding based on its visual appearance.

One UK blindness charity welcomed the move, saying it could help boost blind people's independence.

Google says the feature will "be able to distinguish between a can of corn and a can of green beans".

Many apps, such as calorie trackers, have long used product barcodes to identify what you're eating. Google says Lookout is also using image recognition to identify the product from its packaging.

The app, for Android phones, has some two million "popular products" in a database it stores on the phone - and this catalogue changes depending on where the user is in the world, a post on Google's AI blog said.

In a kitchen cupboard test by a BBC reporter, the app had no difficulty in recognising a popular brand of American hot sauce, or another similar product from Thailand. It could also correctly read spices, jars and tins from British supermarkets - as well as imported Australian favourite Vegemite.

But it fared less well on fresh produce or containers with irregular shapes, such as onions, potatoes, tubes of tomato paste and bags of flour.

If it had trouble, the app's voice asked the user to twist the package to another angle - but still failed on several items.