laserscan You may recall how Data the android read books in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or the robot Johnny Five in Short Circuit—by riffling through the pages and absorbing the information in the time it took to go from the front to back cover.

Now researchers in Tokyo have come up with a system that can scan paper books into electronic form just as fast. The video (embedded below the jump) shows University of Tokyo assistant professor Yoshihiro Watanabe literally holding a book under the camera and riffling through the pages.

The monitor captures the images and, as shown above, overlays them with a laser grid that is used to calculate the curvature of the pages so it can be compensated for in the image-capturing process. The scanner works at a rate of 500 frames per second, and can capture a complete 200 page book in a minute. Its developers say they hope to be able to make it even faster.

They also hope to be able to make it smaller, so it can be integrated into portable devices such as a cellphone. Imagine being able to OCR any book, anywhere, for later reading on your iPhone.

Amusingly, however, the researchers seem to have more understanding of scanner technology than they do of copyright.

In fact, Watanabe told me he was particularly interested in scanning manga comics. Imagine, he said, if all of Japan’s vast manga archives, at libraries, homes, and elsewhere, could be rapidly scanned and shared among manga fans around the world. That’d be nice. Alas, when he contacted one publisher, they didn’t like his idea and forbade him from using their books for testing the scanning device. Watanabe currently uses a mock book he made himself.


  1. Now, if they can tie accurate OCR into that, it would officially set my mouth to “watering.” Imaging pulling out your print library and digitizing everything in a weekend! Now that’s progress!

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