Watch How Computers Perform Optical Character Recognition

iStock // nikolay100
iStock // nikolay100

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is the key technology in scanning books, signs, and all other real-world texts into digital form. OCR is all about identifying a picture of written language (or set of letters, numbers, glyphs, you name it) and sorting out what specific characters are in there.

OCR is a hard computer science problem, though you wouldn't know it from its current pervasive presence in consumer software. Today, you can point a smartphone at a document, or a sign in a national park, and instantly get a pretty accurate OCR read-out...and even a translation. It has taken decades of research to reach this point.

Beyond the obvious problems—telling a lowercase "L" apart from the number "1," for instance—there are deep problems associated with OCR. For one thing, the system needs to figure out what font is in use. For another, it needs to sort out what language the writing is in, as that will radically affect the set of characters it can expect to see together. This gets especially weird when a single photo contains multiple fonts and languages. Fortunately, computer scientists are awesome.

In this Computerphile video, Professor Steve Simske (University of Nottingham) walks us through some of the key computer science challenges involved with OCR, showing common solutions by drawing them out on paper. Tune in and learn how this impressive technology really works:

A somewhat related challenge, also featuring Simske, is "security printing" and "crazy text." Check out this Computerphile video examining those computer science problems, for another peek into how computers see (and generate) text and imagery.

Need a Robot Vacuum? Neato's Botvac D6 Is $330 Off This Week

Neato
Neato

We've previously recommended robot vacuums as an amazingly easy way to keep your home free of dust, pet hair, and other allergy-triggering nasties, but with higher-tech models going for hundreds and hundreds of dollars, it can be hard to convince yourself you need a vacuum that badly. Except when there's a great sale, like this week's Best Buy deal on Neato's Botvac D6 Connected vacuum.

The app-controlled automated vacuum normally retails for $729, but it's going for $400 right now—a $330 discount. That's 45 percent off.

The Botvac D6, which came out in 2018 and is one of the company's fanciest models, features a battery life of 120 minutes, LaserScan technology that allows it to memorize your home's floorplan (including multi-level homes), a high-performance filter to collect allergens, a turbo mode with increased suction, a pre-scheduling feature, and that signature D-shape that's made to capture debris in tight corners. Neato advertises the Botvac D6's combination of brushes as being 70 percent larger than most other robot vacuums' brushes, allowing it to pick up even more pet hair and dirt.

It also has a bunch of smart features that lower-tier robot vacuums don't offer, like the Quick Boost charging feature, which allows the vacuum to return to its base to quickly top off its charge—just enough to finish the job—if it's running low on juice, and the ability to set no-go lines around pet bowls, piles of cords, and other areas that you don't want your vacuum zooming through. You can control the vacuum via your phone, Amazon Home, Alexa, your Apple Watch, the Neato Chatbot on Facebook, and more.

This is only the latest Neato vacuum to go on super-sale. In March, the company's Botvac D4 was also featured in Best Buy's weekly deals, selling for $300. That model (which features 75 minutes of battery life to the D6's 120) is currently selling for $400 at Best Buy as well.

Here's a tip: We bet your dad would love getting one of these babies for Father's Day. It would also make an excellent gift for a new grad moving into their first grown-up apartment.

Buy it from Best Buy for $400. The deal lasts until 10 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday, May 27.

If controlling your cleaning plan with your phone doesn't seem exciting enough to you, there are plenty of even fancier robot cleaning assistants out there. May we suggest one that will vacuum, mop, and clean itself?

A New Hypersonic Jet Could Get You From New York to London in 90 Minutes

iStock/baona
iStock/baona

For impatient travelers, the next wave of air transportation could be a game-changer. Aerospace company Hermeus Corporation recently announced that it has obtained funding to pursue development of a plane that could travel five times faster than the speed of sound, getting passengers from New York to London in just 90 minutes. But it won't be a cheap flight, and the idea isn't without some baggage.

The venture, which was founded by former employees of private space travel companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, is seeking to craft a plane that can travel at Mach 5 and reach a cruising speed of 3300 mph.

That ambition will likely take years to materialize. Hermeus co-founder and CEO AJ Piplica told CNN that development is projected to last a decade. He anticipated one-way tickets will cost in the range of $3000.

It currently takes about seven hours to travel from New York to London. Previously, travelers were able to cut that time down to roughly four hours, traveling at twice the speed of sound in the supersonic Concorde jet. High fuel consumption and expensive tickets led to the retirement of the aircraft in 2003. Whether Hermeus can overcome the environmental concerns of such high-octane travel and gather enough passengers willing to pay a premium for less time spent in the air remains to be seen.

[h/t CNN]

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