Archive for the 'Falstaff' Category

Industrial Design Study (USB Drives)

September 20th, 2006 by Adam

This is the first of a series of posts we plan related to the industrial design of the Exbiblio scanning device. Coming soon, we plan to have interviews with the design team, design sketches, and photos of the prototypes.

I’ll start by showing some charts the design team put together to study existing gadgets on the market for comparison, discussion, and inspiration. The following images show a variety of the USB drives currently on the market. Note that our scanning device is likely to have USB drive functionality in addition to the text scanning and voice recording features.

USB Drives 2 USB Drives 1 USB Drives 3

What’s the Exbiblio oPen for?

September 20th, 2006 by Hugh

I’ve been a little quiet on the blog while I’ve been here at the Exbiblio office. I can report that I’m collecting lots of material to write up later. I’ve also been helping Ariel with a big rewrite of the copy on the Exbiblio website. I’m looking for examples of uses for Exbiblio’s first product, the oPen, which is due out next Spring.

Let me recap. Despite its name, the oPen is not really a pen at all. We hope to give you some pictures soon. It’s a sleek and flat little rectangle that will easily slip into a shirt pocket. It’s a text scanner with big aspirations. Let me numerate a few. I would be glad for more examples.

  • If it lives up to its promise, the oPen will be the most compact and reliable text scanner to date. So if you are reading a book, it will be no trouble to highlight a paragraph and save it. There’s no need to deface your book with a note or underline, or turn the corner of the page, or stick a post-it note inside. You’ve captured the text and can keep it on your computer. This is its most simple function. It’s a little underrated in the great Exibiblio “vision” but for my money, this is its most easy-to-understand and useful function.
  • If you want to add a few thoughts about what you just read, you can mutter them into the oPen. It save the sound file linked to the quotation you have chosen.
  • If the book you are reading is out of copyright, there’s a good chance that a digital copy of it exists on the web somewhere. Once your quotation is saved on your computer, the Exbiblio system will find the context for you. You will be able to expand your quotation to look at the whole page, chapter, or book. If you know that a digital copy exists, all you have to do is scan a few words because the Exbiblio system will find the rest for you.
  • Once you have a collection of quotations on your computer, you can search them, tag them, and sift them – do all the things that you like to do on computers.
  • You can, of course, share your quotations by emailing them and blogging them.
  • The Exbiblio system will be great for cross-referencing. Suppose you are reading a biography of a British Prime Minister that quotes a few lines of a famous speech, “We shall fight them on the beaches.” The Exbiblio system will find the rest of that speech for you. Similarly, citations of other reference books and sources can lead you to the original text. There’s no need for a researcher keep going back to the library to look up every cross-reference.
  • It will also work as a bar code scanner – so you can can catalogue your book or cd collection, or if you work in business you can use it to keep track of inventory.
  • If you are reading a poster or a notice on a wall, the Exbiblio pen could lead you to more information on the web about an event - see MyTago and Smartpox

These are just a few possible uses. I’m starting to think that I would be happy to fork out a few quid (I’m English) for one of these. Let your imagination take free reign. I’d be glad to have any more examples.

Hello Rainy Seattle

September 18th, 2006 by Hugh

I left a beautiful sunny autumn’s day on London yesterday and flew out to Seattle for my third trip to Exbiblio. I didn’t bring a coat or an umbrella – an omission considering the rainy weather here this morning.

It’s easy for me to stroll into work early as I’m still on London time and am staying just around the corner near Pioneer Square. I’m able to chat with the office early birds, Spencer and Claes Fredrik. I’ve not met Spencer before, but he helps me find a room in the new “wing” of the expanding office. I’m strategically positioned just near the table with the enticing snacks – fresh berries and tangy sheep’s cheese. Claes Fredrik helps me get my aging laptop plugged into the network. We chat a little bit about some of the technologies that have been showing up on the blog.

While blogging away in London, I’ve been trying to fill in the picture of the universe in which Exbiblio is operating. There seem to be a number of companies working on bridging the divide between paper and digital. They are rather disparate, and I don’t think you can quite call it a movement yet – but there’s a lot going on in this space. This week I’m planning to write more about what Exbiblio’s up to.

On this trip I’m hoping to see the first prototype of the Exbiblio Scanner Pen, code-named Falstaff. I believe there have been some glitches causing delays – which is only to be expected on a project of this nature, but it can be hard to get engineers to talk about glitches.

As Spencer has just been saying to me a minute ago, Exbiblio is a stimulating place to work, both intellectually and on the “values” level of not being overtly hyper profit-driven. It’s striking how recruits say they were attracted by Exbiblio’s values page on its website. However, I am hoping to tease a business / marketing plan out of the more “senior” people in its “flat” management structure. It’s time to write about matters such as useful applications for Exbiblio’s technology, target markets, return on investment – the sort of stuff that business people normally talk about. I haven’t heard a great deal of that ilk on my previous trips. Perhaps I haven’t asked the right questions, but I also get a sense that these matters are not always to the fore, perhaps because the technical challenges are so absorbing for Exbiblio intellects. I’m also going to ask about Exbiblio’s laudable aims to change the world for the better (which I think people will be very glad to talk about) but Exbiblio’s good intentions depend on being a business success first.

The CueCat

September 7th, 2006 by Hugh

CueCatThis is a story about a scanner device that was mentioned in an anonymous comment on this blog. I thought it was worth reading up a little more about it. It’s a failure story – but there’s always something to be learned from others’ mistakes (and your own!).

As a note to new readers, Exbiblio’s first product will be a scanner pen with a difference. It will link a paper document to its digital equivalent by means by capturing five or six words of the text. It turns out that a few consecutive words in any text are almost always unique.

CueCat was a scanner device designed by DigitalConvergence in the late 1990s (there’s a nice article about its history on Wikipedia). It read barcodes, and when plugged into a computer, it could take readers to a related page on the internet. The company mailed out free CueCats, often unsolicited. Wired Magazine gave them away. In 2000, CueCat bar codes appeared in some leading publications, including Forbes and Time. RadioShack gave away the devices and included CueCat barcodes in its catalogs.

Hackers quickly saw the CueCat might have other applications as a general barcode reader. For instance, if modified, it might be used to build a catalog of your book or CD library, or to take you to an Amazon page. The firm expanded its licence agreement to forbid such modifications, claiming that it remained the owner of the device.

The product soon ran into more controversy. Each CueCat had a unique serial number, and it was asserted that DigitalConvergence could spy on how individuals used them. The company set its lawyers on hackers who published ways to modify its product.

It all ended the way many businesses do. In 2005, a liquidator was offering 2 million CueCats at 30 cents each.

Exbiblio has a very different approach. It’s committed in its values to protecting users’ data and to generally being good (“leaving beauty in our wake”). Still, there are some interesting parallels here and lessons to be learned.

It’s Alive!!!

August 31st, 2006 by Adam

Falstaff is Alive!

But, no memory yet…


August 30th, 2006 by Adam

It was discovered yesterday that the SDRAM chip doesn’t fit in those beautiful red circuit boards we had delivered last week.

Turns out there was a mistake during the design process where an incorrect template was used for the SDRAM chip.

This will probably set the Falstaff project back about one week. The hardware team is continuing to assemble the other components to make sure that the rest of the design looks good before we have the board rebuilt.

Ian MacDuff explained that the team has taken a risk by shortening some of the more typical review processes because of our rapid 10-week prototype schedule. We hope that things go well and that we can have working prototypes much sooner than normal. However, if mistakes are not caught immediately (as in this case), it can delay the project.

Falstaff Software

August 29th, 2006 by Team Member

SpencerHi, This is Spencer Bliven. I’m a summer intern/part-time software engineer at Exbiblio. I thought I’d let you know about a part of Falstaff that I’ve been working on.

As the first hardware comes together, we on the software side have been hurrying to make sure that drivers and applications are in place so that the hardware can actually do something when it is finished.

There are a number of steps to go from a scan on the pen to text on your screen. First, the data must be transfered to your computer over USB. This can either happen right when you scan, if the pen is connected, or it can happen later when you next connect the pen to the computer.

The scans work by taking a series of small images as you drag the pen across the paper.

Best Conditions0000 Best Conditions0001 Best Conditions0002 Best Conditions0003 Best Conditions0004

This can be thought of as a video of what the pen sees, although it is at a very low frame rate. The next step towards extracting text is to stitch the small overlapping frames into one large image. We humorously call this process ‘storting,’ defined as the reverse of ‘distorting.’

David Warman has written a good program that takes the rotate, skewed, blotchy images we get from the pen and ‘storts’ them into a single image. The basic principle is the same as using Photoshop to stitch together several photos to form a panorama.


After a single image has been produced we perform OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to convert it into text. This text is finally sent to the Life Library application as a capture: every pose, v

By Spencer Bliven

Falstaff Assembly

August 28th, 2006 by Adam

Brian Piquette (Synapse) and Ian MacDuff (Exbiblio) of our hardware team have provided the following photos of the bits and pieces of Falstaff coming together. Thanks guys!

Sensor Board: CMOS Image Sensor and Illumination LEDs.

This is the image sensor PCB. This PCB holds the CMOS sensor and the white illumination LEDs. It sits in the enclosure perpendicular to the long axis of the device, which points the sensor out the front of the unit.

Falstaff Assembly

Sensor Board with Lens Holder

The image below shows the sensor PCB with the milled plastic lens holder. The lens will screw into this plastic frame.

Falstaff Assembly

Sensor PCB mated with other PCBs in enclosure.

The PCB visible behind the Sensor PCB si the Main PCB. The Main PCB contains the processing core of the Falstaff unit. It has the ARM9 Processor, Flash and SDRAM.

Falstaff Assembly

Button PCB and Main PCB

The Button PCB (top) has the power supply, user interface (buttons and LEDs) and the interface between the sensor board and the main board.

Falstaff Assembly


August 25th, 2006 by Team Member

We’ve been using the name Falstaff to refer to our first prototype of the oPen. Falstaff will have three printed circuit boards (PCBs) to connect all of its electronic components: a processor board that has the processor, RAM, and ROM; an input/output board that has the buttons and lights; and an image-sensor board that, you guessed it, holds the image sensor and illumination lights.

Exbiblio Falstaff

Here’s a picture of Rev 1 of the Falstaff processor board which was completed on Wednesday. This board has eight layers of electrical connections through wires that are only 3 thousandths of an inch wide. The next step in the manufacturing process is to solder all the components onto this “bare” board.

Why isn’t this PCB green?

The color of a circuit board comes from the outer layer which is called a “solder mask.” The solder mask covers all the wires to protect them, but leaves holes where the components are soldered to the board. Without solder mask, PBCs are a dirty-yellow color. For some reason, most circuit boards are made with green solder mask, but the manufacturers have many colors to choose from. Since future revisions of this board may look very similar, it is handy to make each revision of the board a different color so that it is easy to tell them apart.

By Ian MacDuff

First Exbiblio Circuit Board

August 24th, 2006 by Adam

Exbiblio Falstaff Project