Geek on the Cheap #131:Scanning a Book in One Minute – Process vs Product

Mar 28, 2010 | Posted in Geek on the Cheap, geekcraft

How could it be possible to scan an entire book in one minute? By flipping the pages, of course. Researchers Takashi Nakashima and Yoshihiro Watanabe at the University of Tokyo have developed a superfast scanner that lets you digitize a book by rapidly flipping pages.

Their system uses a camera with an incredibly fast shutter (500 frames per second) to take pictures of the text and/or images as the pages are flipped. Except, you might interject, what about the fact that the pages are curved as they’re being photographed (we’re flipping the pages, right?). You’re right! Because the pages are curved, the letters in the text and any images will be distorted in the pictures taken. They would be useless if the clever researchers hadn’t solved this problem by shining a laser on each page that projects a set of lines, which are also photographed. Their software then uses the lines to flatten each image.

(FYI, for those of you who don’t know, converting an image of text [not readable by a Kindle or Nook, for example] into a PDF [a format recognized by text readers] is already quite easy and accessible to all by using OCR software.)

The next step the researchers plan to take is miniaturizing the process for integration into smart phones. “One day,” according to Erico Guizzo, “you might be able to flip the pages of a book in front of your iPhone and get a digitized version in seconds.”

Holy crap! When the news story about the superfast scanner came out on March 17th, I imagine thousands of publishers took this epithet literally as they dropped to their knees to pray it ain’t so.

On the other hand, let’s look at the process for a minute and not just the product. The device is predicated on the existence of a hard copy book, not a digital book. And it’s predicated on the idea that you want to read this hard copy book in digital form. One scenario would be that don’t want to buy the digital form. So you go into a bookstore, pick up a book and scan it — essentially stealing it. Makes the whole idea of getting a digital copy for free hit home, doesn’t it? It really is stealing.

The truth is that it’s not going to get harder to convert books to digital form or to share them in digital form. It’s only going to get easier. So the only thing that will stop the theft of intellectual property is the knowledge, the true sense, that it is theft if you don’t compensate an artist for his or her work. I’m not being all high and mighty here; I’m as guilty as the next person of having downloaded one or two things for free. So I’m saying this to myself as well as everyone else. Not compensating artists is simply not right.

But there is yet another side to this issue: What if you want to digitize the books you have paid for? The ones sitting upon shelf after shelf at home? Daniel Reetz, founder and steward of the DIY Book Scanner community, built his own book scanner for about $300 because he wants his books with him everywhere. (I can relate to this; when I travel, I always overpack books.)

If you’d like to build your own book scanner, his instructions are available at “DIY High-Speed Book Scanner from Trash and Cheap Cameras” or DIYBOOKSCANNER.ORG. (Yet another project to add to my list.) Of course, scanning a book with this DIY device will take a lot longer than a minute, but that just gives you time to fondle your book. Oops, should I not have divulged that?

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