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How Google's High Speed Book Scanner De-Warps Pages 209

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the onto-dewarping-brains-next dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Patent 7,508,978, awarded to Google, shows how the company has already managed to scan more than 7 million books. Google's system uses two cameras and infrared light to automatically correct for the curvature of pages in a book. By constructing a 3D model of each page and then 'de-warping' it afterward, Google can present flat-looking pages online without having to slice books up or mash them onto a flatbed scanner. Stephen Shankland writes that the 'sophistication of the technology illustrates that would-be competitors who want to feature their own digitized libraries won't have a trivial time catching up to Google.' First, a book is placed on a flat surface, while above it, an infrared projector displays a special mazelike pattern onto the pages. Next, two infrared cameras photograph the infrared pattern from different perspectives. 'The images can be stereoscopically combined, using known stereoscopic techniques, to obtain a three-dimensional mapping of the pattern,' according to the patent. 'The pattern falls on the surface of (the) book, causing the three-dimensional mapping of the pattern to correspond to the three-dimensional surface of the page of the book.'"
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How Google's High Speed Book Scanner De-Warps Pages

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  • So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday May 15, 2009 @03:28PM (#27972143) Journal
    How long before some particularly vengeful luddite publisher starts printing on treated paper stock that has an IR visible pattern, calculated to confuse these scanners, printed on it?

    They've been making "anti-copy paper" designed to defeat optical scanning for years now, surely something similar in the IR band could be effected...
  • I've read many comments over the years about the old Bell Labs and how a huge amount of pioneering research came out of them over the course of their existance, i.e. before they got axed.

    It would seem that Google Labs is performing somewhat the same function, albeit more oriented towards software rather than physical research.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2009 @03:32PM (#27972207)

    ...who's flipping the pages?

  • by Shaterri (253660) on Friday May 15, 2009 @03:41PM (#27972305)

    ...that Google licenses this to scanner manufacturers and we see this at a consumer level at some point in the future? I know I'd pay good money for a book scanner that doesn't need to have a 'book edge' (which you already have to pay through the nose for)...

  • Re:Unnecessary? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Friday May 15, 2009 @03:44PM (#27972349)

    Pages lie different from the front to the back of the book, and books are bound differently. So you can't use a generic model and expect it to be accurate in most cases.

    I actually think this is really cool because it seems to account for any scenario, including folded pages, I would assume. Although, I suppose that in extreme bends it might not be perfect, but certainly they just need to ensure that pages are adequately flat. It automates the entire process.

    I wonder if they've built an automated page-turning mechanism; I would assume they have. Just drop in a book and let the machine go to town on it.

  • Re:Patent!!??!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2009 @03:44PM (#27972355)

    I hate patents as much as anyone else, but:
    1) This isn't so obvious, and requires some fairly complex math
    2) It is pretty complex (in the way it functions), enough that i would actually consider this patent-worthy.

    But, there is some "prior art" of such functions in the visible range for scanning bodies IIRC.

    I believe this was meant to be funny, and i shall accept incoming whooshes of air with joy.
    Have at you.

    note: i still hate patents though.
    I can't see why they would benefit from patenting this method...
    I guess for the usual reasoning behind it, "FIRST!"

  • Re:progress (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chyeld (713439) <chyeldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday May 15, 2009 @03:50PM (#27972427)

    Only if Google refused to license it. Google isn't Microsoft or Intel; I doubt they'd go that route.

    In fact, since Google has paid for the innovation of this tech, including the R&D for it, patenting it and then allowing companies to license it reduces the barrier since companies that couldn't have paid for the research now have the technique available to them.

  • by langelgjm (860756) on Friday May 15, 2009 @03:52PM (#27972453) Journal

    That's modded funny, but take a look at this. [google.com]

    Maybe they use automated page turning machines for normal books, and turn pages by hand for older/more fragile works?

  • Re:Playing Catch-up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ushering05401 (1086795) on Friday May 15, 2009 @03:55PM (#27972491) Journal

    Word.

    I was involved in evaluating rare books back around the turn of the century.

    I can personally attest that representatives of online book search companies were attempting to buy up one of a kind pieces for destructive scanning.

    There was one dealer in possession of a somewhat flawed, but well examined Shakespeare folio that had to put the kabosh on a reputation making deal because he found out the buyer was going to slice the piece out of its binding for scanning.

    I turned down a much smaller offer on a much less significant, but still very cool, two hundred year old angler's guide (with hand colored plates and original binding) for the same reason.

    Quality scans without destruction can only help raise the profile of rare books and the value they offer society - not simply for their content, but as tangible examples of the evolution of the art of communication.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:04PM (#27972589)

    Bell Labs did basic research that most of the time didn't have any current commercial applications and maybe never will.

    Google's all have current commercial applications. I don't know of anything they do that is for pure research and to add to humanities knowledge.

    Doesn't Google have something called the 20% policy or something like that? Where Google engineers devote 20% of their time to non-Google projects?

    Not exactly basic research, but not necessarily commercial applications.

    The closure of Bell Labs is one of the tragedies of the 20th century.

  • Re:So... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:11PM (#27972683) Journal
    I have to hope that any publisher hip enough to read Slashdot for tech advice(rather than relying on glossy advertisements from "security" vendors in the latest issue of Monetizing The Everloving Fuck Out of Your Precious, Precious IP magazine) wouldn't do anything that stupid. I wouldn't bet on it, though.

    With respect to the foolishness over "copy protection" it is interesting to consider the possible application of the old line "the worse, the better." [wikipedia.org] The idea is that, in order for a bad situation to change, it must get worse, so that the cost of tolerating it becomes unbearably high. As long as DRM and anti-copy paper, and macrovision and all the others cause relatively limited customer displeasure and support calls, there will be little incentive to change, and things will remain as they are. If you can drive the content guys to ever more intrusive measures, things might actually get bad enough to spur a blowback.
  • Cough, you don't ahve to. I can copy your book all gad damn day long and have not violated your rights or the copyright code.
    The moment I try to distribute them, then it's a copyright violation.

    It's called copyright, because the only reason one would copy it was to distribute it.
    Backup really wasn't an issue then like it is now.

  • by waterbear (190559) on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:49PM (#27973077)

    De-warping sounds useful, but there are problems that it probably won't solve --

    Like the operator who scans a book page with his/her fingers or hand stuck between the page and the scanner-glass. For example, the dreaded 'New York Hand' or its fingers can be seen occupying the place of part of the text or figures on many pages of books scanned for Google-Books from the New York Public Library. On some pages, the impression of the fingers is clear enough to show the rings worn by the Hand that was doing the scanning. :(

    It will take more than a de-warping patent to solve that one .....

    -wb-

  • by trb (8509) on Friday May 15, 2009 @05:27PM (#27973471)
  • Re:Playing Catch-up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2009 @05:36PM (#27973557)

    This trick has been used for 20 years in astronomy. You shine a really powerful laser of known metrics into the sky and measure the atmospheric distortion suffered by the beam.

    Then you take those numbers and calculate what it would take to even out the beam, and you feed THAT set of numbers to a telescope with adaptive optics which will then correct for the atmospheric distortion. Bingo, suddenly your telescope is able to take sharp images without having the air screw it up.

    The technique is very effective and results in ground-based telescopes that rival anything the Hubble can do. Plus they are easier to fix.

    I want to say this is called Guidestar but I am not sure.

    Anyway the similarity to Google's process is simply that you shine a light or image of known value on something unknown and look at how the image now deviates from what you expect. A little math and suddenly you know exactly the shape of the unknown object. Brilliant.

  • by Toonol (1057698) on Friday May 15, 2009 @05:49PM (#27973693)
    "Looker."

    Building 3d computer models by stereoscopic analysis of project light patterns is at least twenty years old. In fact it mentions in the summary that it they use an established technique.

    As for your second comment... that's kind of my point. Since the technique is not new, the equipment is not new, what did google do that was new? Perhaps there is some actual invention in the process somewhere; but I don't have enough faith in the patent process to unquestioningly ASSUME that there is.
  • OCR (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 12357bd (686909) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @03:10AM (#27977119)

    Google should return to the open source community a decent OCR app+engine. Tesserac+ocropus are just too little, and it's already too late.

    Windows already has decent ocr habilities, any hp scanner comes with decent image to page-document sofware. It's a shame that google, that has been build upon open source and has maybe the best ocr technology in the world, hasn't returned a competitive and free ocr solution for Linux.

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