At a time when many are questioning the utility of point-and-shoot cameras in favor of relying on their smartphones, Google appears to be working on a standalone handheld camera.
A patent awarded to the company today (Jan. 12), and filed in 2014, shows a design for a foldable camera that looks a lot like a mid-2000s cellphone. That patent doesn’t reveal much about how the camera would be used but it appears to rest on a hinge so that it can stand on its own or lay flat. The patent simply shows the interior and exterior, but doesn’t give any clues as to how it’s controlled or linked to other devices.
This type of patent, for a design rather than a new invention, is generally just a series of pictures of a proposed design idea. In the US, design patents are kept secret until they are granted, for competitive reasons; many aren’t published to the US Patent and Trademark Office’s website until after companies have produced products that resemble the designs. But as far as we can tell, Google has not released any cameras that look like the design in this patent.
While patents don’t necessarily mean that a company is actively working on turning an idea into a product it plans to market—and design patents can look different than products a company actually releases—it does seem that Google is looking into some sort of image capturing device. The company has been awarded 57 patents that mention “camera” in their title since 2009, as well as 19 that mention “imaging.” Nest, another subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, bought Dropcam, the home monitoring camera company, in 2014, but this new camera design looks like something that’s meant to be carried around, rather than left hidden away in a corner of a room. Google’s camera-related patent library includes multiple patents for digital devices that can capture images and photos that look like modern Polaroids, including another one today.
Google wasn’t immediately available to comment on whether this design patent represented a forthcoming product. Astro Studios, where the two designers listed as working on the patent work, declined to comment.