Superscanner rewrites book on the printed word

The machine can scan four times faster than a human.

A Swiss firm has developed a robot that can leaf through and scan 1,200 pages an hour - four times faster than a human.

This content was published on July 17, 2003 - 18:03

The machine is already in use at Stanford University in the United States where it is digitising the library’s eight million books at a cost of $250 million (SFr343 million).

The robot - named “4DigitalBooks” - has been developed and manufactured by Assy, based near Neuchâtel.

It can scan books or magazines of any size from tiny booklets to broadsheet newspapers.

Thanks to suction cups on its mechanical arms, 4DigitalBooks flicks through the pages at high speed but without damaging the pages.

Then, once the pages have been opened, the scanner arm passes over the surface, photographing the content instantaneously.

The information can then be stored on the Internet where it can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

If two pages are stuck together, the machine stops and separates them with a concentrated jet of air.

Computerised bookworm

Assy has been reluctant to disclose the cost of the robot but said the machine in use at Stanford could pay for itself after just 5.5 million scanned pages.

In addition to the financial benefits, the machine offers other advantages: for example, it doesn't damage the books or leave any greasy fingerprints on the paper.

When scanning certain volumes manually, pages often have to be detached and the book rebound afterwards.

Furthermore, the books can be digitised on site, thus eliminating the risks involved in dispatching them to specialist scanning companies in the Philippines, Pakistan or India.

As a result of the Stanford University deal, Assy is now being inundated with requests from institutions, all keen to put the contents of their libraries on the Internet.

Unfortunately for them, the company cannot produce more than five of the robots per year.

swissinfo, Fabio Mariani

scanner summary

The superscanner can read up to 1,200 pages an hour.
Manual scanning can cope with no more than 300 pages an hour.
The formats range from tiny booklets to broadsheet newspapers.

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In brief

A Swiss company has developed and produced a superscanner which can digitise 1,200 pages an hour.

This marks a huge step forward in the large-scale dissemination of knowledge via the Internet.

The exact price of the superscanner is not known, but Neuchâtel-based Assy says the machine will be paid for after 5.5 million scanned pages.

Stanford University in California is using the machine to digitise eight million books.

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