October 24, 2020

A $1,500 DIY Robotic Book Scanner

Recently a Google engineer unveiled a do-it-yourself (DIY) robotic book scanner. As reported by The Verge, Dany Qumsiyeh and a team of colleagues constructed it out of sheet metal, scanner parts, and an ordinary vacuum cleaner to build a page-turning scanner that only requires human intervention to put a book on the device. Scans are automatically sent to a connected laptop. “After a quick 40-second setup,” states the article, “it can digitize a 1000-page book in a little over 90 minutes.”

But perhaps even more amazing is that they have open sourced the plans and patents, thereby providing anyone the ability to do the same thing. Clearly, putting this together takes skills that many of us don’t have, but what it likely means is that some enterprising business will start making the robotic book scanner to capture a market heretofore not well served by scanners that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

It should likely be pointed out that although the scanner only cost a reported $1,500 to build, that does not include the time to construct it, which was labor “donated” through the 20-percent time Google employees get to spend on projects of their own choosing. Therefore, it’s anyones guess as to what a commercial version might cost, although labor costs might be at least partially recouped by wholesale sourcing of parts, economies of scale, etc.

In any case, it seems like a major breakthrough in the cost of mass digitization, since it will likely bring robotic scanning down to a cost that many organizations — and even individuals — can afford.

Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.