Sunday, 1 April 2012

Google helping beer geeks with hop identification

I don’t make many posts based on press releases, but this may be genuinely relevant and interesting. Well it is to me at any rate. A new service being launched this week by Google may help to spread beer knowledge among drinkers.

With a wider range of hop varieties being used than ever before, beer drinkers can often find themselves uncertain or unsure which hops are used in a particular beer.

Google Hops solves this problem by using smartphone technology to detect and identify the variety of hops used in any sample of beer.

A small sensor which plugs into any Android smartphone will feed sensory information back to Google’s servers which compare it with a database of over 600 known hop varieties. The sensor hardware will be available at low cost from Amazon and other vendors.

As well as identifying the hop variety used, Hops will also be able to measure the actual bitterness in the finished beer, something previously only possible by lab analysis.

Tests have shown an accuracy rate of over 90% in beers that use up to three different hops, with recognition becoming more difficult with beers containing blends of four or more varieties. Google hopes to improve recognition rates still further and is asking brewers to submit samples to help profile individual beers.

The technology is thought to work in a similar way to the existing Google Goggles, which is able to recognise famous landmarks and works of art using a smartphone’s camera.

Google Hops is a proof-of-concept app which may lead to more serious usages in the future, says Mark Harrison, Head of Research at Google UK. “App developers tend to be heavy drinkers of beer, so we thought Google Hops would be a good way to raise awareness of the possibilities being opened up by the ubiquity of smartphones and how easily they can be extended still further by the use of low-cost hardware.” Google hopes its own developers will be inspired to create apps building on the technology. Google Gas could detect gas leaks before they are noticeable to the human nose. Google Toast could tell you when your toast is burning and Google Poo could tell you when your baby has soiled its nappy, says Mark.