CLOSE
Original image
iStock // nikolay100

Watch How Computers Perform Optical Character Recognition

Original image
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.

Original image
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
arrow
Space
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
Original image
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]

Original image
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
arrow
travel
One Day, You May Not Have to Take Your Laptop Out at the Airport
Original image
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

TSA security lines might be a little less annoying in the future. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the agency will soon test new airport scanners that allow you to keep your liquids and laptop in your carry-on bag during security screening, a benefit currently only available to those who have been accepted into the agency’s PreCheck program.

The ConneCT scanners have met the TSA's "advanced technology detection standards," according to the company that makes them, Analogic, meaning that they can be tested out at airports across the U.S.

Computed tomography scanning technology is regularly used in hospitals and research labs for everything from diagnosing cancer to studying mummies. The imaging technique uses x-rays that rotate around whatever object is being imaged to create 3D images that provide more detail than those created by the regular x-ray scanners currently used to inspect carry-on luggage.

The ConneCT scanners have been in the works for 10 years. The devices have x-ray cameras that spin around the conveyor belt that holds your bag, creating a 3D image of it. Then algorithms help flag whether there's something suspicious inside so that it can be pulled aside for further screening by hand. They've already been tested in airports in Phoenix and Boston, but haven't been used on a national level yet.

But don't expect to see the high-tech scanners at your local airport anytime soon. According to the TSA, they have to undergo yet more testing before any of the machines can be deployed, and there’s no timetable for that yet.

Until then, as you're packing your liquids, just remember—you can always just freeze them.

[h/t Conde Nast Traveler]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios