By Alma Buelva Updated December 01, 2008 12:00 AM
Picture being able to instantaneously translate any printed document in Japanese, Korean or Chinese characters to English using a flatbed scanner and a printer. Now envision being able to track any kind of changes, especially minute details, in original and revised drawings also using a scanner and a printer.
At Fuji Xerox’s research and development labs in Japan, these are just two examples of the futuristic technologies that the company has been working on to make its transition from its long-established image as the copier company to a document management services company.
“If you hear Fuji Xerox’s name, you think of copier. However, our business has changed dramatically over the past few years. With copying, printing and scanning we are fashioning great customer experiences to create environments that tackle business challenges beyond creating efficiencies. We have aggressively expanded into global services focusing on management of mission-critical assets,” said Tadahito Yamamoto, Fuji Xerox president.
A key part of Fuji Xerox’s services push is its new line of Apeos digital multi-function machines which can handle the futuristic scan translating technology and inklifting technology that the company plans to offer as services next year.
The Apeos are designed as document handling equipment in the office that can function as “portals” to a network. These machines can quickly transform paper documents into electronic forms and distribute them through IP networks.
Scan translating technology
Have you ever bought anything with labels or instructions in Japanese, Korean or Chinese characters and desperately wished you could translate them in English?
Conventionally, translation from text to text requires text strings to be arranged so that a translation system can read them. But with Fuji Xerox’s upcoming scan translation technology, printed materials, especially those on complex characters such as Chinese, Korean and Japanese, can be translated and printed in a minute without having the user to type the characters into a computer.
All it takes is for the printed document to be scanned onto an Apeos flatbed scanner. The user selects the language into which the document is to be translated and push the print button to get a translated printout of the document. It’s that easy.
“The scan-translation service is running on our Web server network. The service is achieved using an external access function of ApeosPort called Apeos iiX (Internet integration framework based on XML with Web service technology). The user interface display of ApeosPort is customized for scan-translation service, so users can operate it easily like a copier or printer without them knowing the existence of the server,” explained Kiyoshi Saito, Fuji Xerox’s R&D senior vice president.
The process starts with the scanned image based on the source language being analyzed for OCR (optical character recognition) processing to determine how it will be translated to the target language. Translation to two languages can be done simultaneously.
After the translated document creation process, the Apeos will produce two printouts: one with the translated language replacing all the original characters or texts and the other where the original text is maintained with the translated text right on top of it. The layout of the documents remains the same after translation.
A “ruby-style translation” is used whereby ruby characters are added to the original document so that two languages are located close to each other for easier reference. This method also combines the advantages of not having to look back and forth often between the original and the translated documents.
“At Fuji Xerox, our goal isn’t just to translate documents; we are focused on how to transcend the language barrier and facilitate communication through the use of documents. We believe this service will be extremely useful for helping users with different native languages to share information,” said Saito.
He also acknowledged that “OCR and translation are not perfect so mistakes could occur, but using ruby-style translation minimizes those mistakes. Accuracy is not 100 percent but it’s at a level where one could understand the message or context. What we are aiming at is quick translation to get a sense of a document’s content. It’s not supposed to be perfect as an output. The idea is to maintain the original sentence as it was.”
The beta supports only four languages so far, but more languages are being planned to be included in the service. Saito said it can also possibly be implemented in other Fuji Xerox printers but it won’t be a one-touch process as it is with Apeos.
If you’re familiar with the “spot the difference” cartoon strips, you will appreciate Fuji Xerox’s inklifting technology.
The key feature of this technology is its ability to compare two similar images and extract the differences between them. Fuji Xerox plans to offer it as a service to companies that deal with a lot of contract type of documents and paper-based designs and drawings.
How it works? For example, in a technical drawing for a manufacturing design, it is necessary that the operator finds what has been changed from the original drawing that could affect the manufacturing process. The problem is, it’s not easy to determine the changes on revised drawings by simply looking at them and it could take at least half an hour, thus the operator might completely overlook the revisions and fail to make necessary adjustments in manufacturing.
With the inklifting technology, the operator just needs to scan the original drawing and the revised one. Fuji Xerox’s service comes in by retrieving the original file from its server, compare it with the revised one, extract the differences and send the results in a form of an automatic printout, with the revised part highlighted for easy detection. The whole process takes a minute or two.
“Inklifting technology allows us to detect the minute differences. The Apeos does the extraction by sending the information to the server for processing then prints the results. The customer will check and approve which of the revisions will be kept and our system will implement it,” said Saito.
The technology can extract or subtract not only differences but also additional information in handwritten texts. Fuji Xerox’s service will include management of the revision history and detect falsification of documents.
Saito said they have no plans of selling the server software they developed for the inklifting technology because it is meant to be a service offering.
Data storage is part of the service, but Saito said they only plan to make customer data available within 36 hours and delete them at 5 a.m. the next day.
Yamamoto is determined to make more business out of solutions and services in 2009. In a briefing with Asia-Pacific IT journalists, he said it’s time to change the company’s image from one that sells copiers to a strong provider of document management solutions and services.
“We announced 22 new products this year and next year we will announce a brand new technology platform. We will expand our IP-based technologies by the middle of next year… focusing on three business models: devices, outsourcing, solutions,” said Yamamoto.
Yamamoto believes Fuji Xerox can make a strong document management offering to IT departments that could use help in this area as they constantly battle other pressing issues related to technology, cost and manpower.
“We are not IBM, but nobody does this (document management and services) like we do. What we need is to develop unique software and combine our document solutions with others by forging alliances with other vendors so we can offer a platform that will bring more productivity from a hardware basis. All our clients have IT resources (from different providers) so a strong alliance with other vendors is key,” Yamamoto explained.
Jiro Shono, Fuji Xerox executive vice president and director, said they would pay particular attention to providing business process solutions and multi-function devices.
“We are now proposing to our customers to allow us to handle all their office document requirements to reduce 20 percent of their costs. We will not only offer devices but also services that will manage even their hardware from other vendors. We call this Office Services,” Shono said.
Yamamoto added that it only makes sense for Fuji Xerox to take on this new expanded role given its traditional strengths in document processing.
“Wherever we go or whatever we do today, a lot of documents are involved. You just buy or sell something and you will issue or be given an invoice. If we can electronically manage those documents and hook it to a company’s ERP (enterprise resource planning), for example, it would help companies a lot and make their businesses smarter,” he said.
Meanwhile, Fuji Xerox plans to offer next year to limited customers in Japan both the inklifting and scan translation technologies. Company officials see a global launch to probably happen after 2010.
Fuji Xerox’s shareholders are the FujiFilm Holdings Corp. (75 percent) and Xerox Ltd. (25 percent). Headquartered in Tokyo, the company has 10 R&D centers in Japan and multiple sales and manufacturing activities around the globe