Scanning a book manually, page by page, is a slow, mind-numbing task. Google has had some ideas on how to speed up the process, but apparently these methods are still limited by how fast humanhands can manipulate a book's pages before an image-capturing system.

Google, meet Masatoshi Ishikawa, a professor at the University of Tokyo. Ishikawa is well known in robotics circles for his Matrix bullet time-style amazingdemos—like a robot hand that can catch objects in midair with superhuman speed. How does it work? He built a “Super Vision Chip” (that's what he calls it) that can “see” events too fast for the eye.

Ishikawa and his colleagues are already working on several applications—including a microscope that can track individual bacteria and a video game motion-capture system for gesture playing. Late last year when I visited the lab, they showed me their latest creation: a superfast book scanner.

The system, developed by lab members Takashi Nakashima and Yoshihiro Watanabe, lets you scan a book by rapidly flipping its pages in front of a high-speed camera. They call this method book flipping scanning. They told me they can digitize a 200-page book in one minute, and hope to make that even faster.

The camera operates at 500 frames per second, with a resolution of 1280 by 1024 pixels. For each frame, the system alternates between two capture modes. First it shines regular light on the page and captures text and images. Then a laser device projects lines on the page and the camera captures that as well.

The scanned pages are curved and distorted, but the researchers found a way to fix that. The laser pattern allows the system to obtain a page's three-dimensional deformation using active stereo methods. So they wrote software that builds a 3D model of the page and reconstructs it into a regular, flat shape.

The system is currently a prototype that occupies an entire lab bench. But in the future, they hope to simplify and miniaturize it for integration into portable devices like a smartphone. So one day you might be able to flip the pages of a book in front of your iPhone and get a digitized version in seconds.

True, it might not be a perfect, high-resolution copy of the book. The scanning process might skip pages and, well, your fingers might appear in the images. And that's not to mention all the copyright questions.

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.

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less