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Ricoh Innovation's Visual Search Technology: A Potential Revolution for Booky Books

french rev 2.jpgFor those with a fondness for paper book reading, no ebook or book app or shiny, portable reading device can compare to the real thing. Some will cite their appreciation for quality paper stock and gorgeous typesetting. Others may tell you they love the smell or feel of books. And quite a few printed paper book diehards will say that there is nothing like a bound book for a truly engaging reading experience. For many, the  buttons and screens and links are anything but enhancements. 

I buy all these pro-booky book arguments and more, but I love the possibilities of digital books. It’s a shame to give up all the potential webby goodness of an ebook for the tried and true goodness of paper books. Makes one wonder… what if one could have
their printed bookish cake and eat it too? What if booky-books could transform, when so desired, into fully networked
booky-books — all without altering the design, the production, or the
printed content?

Well, now they can. And, a small Palo Alto-based
research center/start-up called Ricoh Innovations is leading the way.

How
It Works

According
to Jamey Graham, Distinguished Research Engineer at Ricoh, RI’s technology is similar to that of QR codes, but uses the
natural patterns of an object or a page as opposed to a barcode. “Over the
last few years we’ve developed algorithms for indexing & recognizing visual patterns. Using an Android or iPhone device, readers can
snap a picture of a region on the page (text or images, or a
combination) and they will be presented with online material just as if
they’d scanned a barcode.”

With RI’s visual search system, areas of a page are mapped and linked to corresponding content. RI
has developed both cloud and mobile versions of their device
recognition engines, and are hoping that publishers will recognize the opportunity that their particular approach to visual search can offer to the reading experience — bridging the physical book with online media.

Ricoh recently launched their first app to accompany the soon-to-be-released novel by Matt Stewart, The French
Revolution
(Soft Skull). The app, dubbed the “French
Rev
,” links pages in the book with web-based content including videos, recipes, and music. Geo
location data alerts readers to mapped locations from events in the book
(set in San Francisco) such as Coit Tower, Pier 39, and the Golden
Gate Bridge.

Why Publishers Should Be Excited About It:
It’s relatively painless.
For
one thing, publishers can take full advantage of RI’s visual search
technology regardless of how their books are designed or printed.
Because RI’s technology utilizes pattern recognition (as opposed to technologies such OCR), the visual search
is not dependent on language, font or characters.

Oh, the data possibilities!
There’s not a
marketing person in publishing who doesn’t salivate over the
opportunities digital provides for consumer research. For books connected via visual search, the apps “phone home” with data on a regular basis.
RI’s visual search app records and reports which pages are scanned the
most, the number of unique users that are scanning the location, the geo
location of user, etc. Basically, any data that you can acquire they
can track.

Why Readers
Should Be Excited About It:

For “booky” book lovers and the
digitally inclined alike, books embedded with RI’s visual search offer the best of both worlds.
Pretty bound books, enriched (at your convenience) with easily updatable web-based content, and no ugly QR codes to disrupt the reading
experience.

How It Could Change the World
Ricoh
has hopes to work with the Gates Foundation to create a visual search
companion app for Hesperian’s Where There Is No Doctor.
As part of the project, villages would be provided with a smart phone
and a copy of the physical book. In addition to providing instantaneous and
crucial updates and revisions, the app would allow users in remote areas
to view online maps of where medical experts are located, feature
videos of procedures described in the book.

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