Thursday, September 15

Another Use for Camera Phones

Greetings. I saw this on an email list that I'm on. It seems that all the pieces are coming together to have an optical scanning program run on a camera phone. Now if we can just put a speech engine on them, then perhaps the blind can scan and hear the text of signs, menus, and other printed items that you might come across in your daily travel. This would be especially helpful since you can't always carry a laptop and scanner with you to scan a menu. Enjoy.

Camera phones will be high-precision scanners

List of 3 items
• 16:12 14 September 2005
• news service
• Duncan Graham-Rowe
list end

The software, developed by NEC and the Nara Institute of Science and
Technology (NAIST) in Japan, goes further than existing cellphone camera
by allowing entire documents to be scanned simply by sweeping the phone
across the page.

Commuters in Japan already anger bookstore owners and newsagents by using
existing cellphone software to try to take snapshots of newspaper and
articles to finish reading on the train to work.

This is only possible because some phones now offer very rudimentary optical
character recognition (OCR) software which allows small amounts of text to
be captured and digitised from images.

But with the new software entire documents can be captured. As a page is
being scanned the OCR software takes dozens of still images of the page and
merges them together using the outline of the page as a reference guide. The
software can also detect the curvature of the page and correct any
so caused, enabling even the areas near the binding to be scanned clearly.

Copyright furore

Using the new software with a 1-megapixel camera held at least 20centimetres
away, an A4 sized page takes about 3 to 5 seconds to scan. This produces
21 and 35 images which the software merges together to extract the text and
record any images.

"The goal of our research is to enable mobile phones to be used as portable
faxes or scanners that can be used any time," an NEC spokesman told New

But the concern now is that this technology will catapult the publishing
industry into a copyright furore similar to that which has gripped the
industry in recent years.

"There's no easy solution," says Andrew Yates, intellectual property adviser
to the UK's Periodical Publisher's Association in London.

"The music industry has been struggling with this for some time," he says.
But with music the issue is whether or not you allow people to copy music
have already purchased, says Yates.

Cause for alarm

With print publishing the situation appears to be even more intractable
because the new software will make it possible to make copies without even
the original, he says.

Licensing agreements may be one option he says. But also people will have to
learn that certain rules of conduct still apply. "It is true that this
may cause copyright issues if it were to be used in an unorthodox way," says
the NEC spokesman. But NEC would never encourage such behaviour, he adds.

According to NEC, their software is designed to sound an alarm when being
used, to avoid any copyright conflicts. The company claims that any attempts
mute the device somehow or plug in headphones will not affect the audibility
of this alarm.

NEC and NAIST say they do not plan to commercialise their software for three

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