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OCR: Zach Whalen

[Zach Whalen]

Written by Luc Devroye
McGill University
Montreal, Canada
lucdevroye@gmail.com
http://luc.devroye.org
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A part of Zach Whalen's 2008 thesis at the University of Washington touches upon the history of OCR. An excerpt: Early OCR technology such as David Shepard's Robotic Reader-Writer built in an attic and unveiled to the public in 1951, focused on tasks like reading for the blind and text duplication. It was not until Reader's Digest purchased and implemented a large-scale OCR machine for managing its database of subscribers that OCR realized its potential for streamlining data entry. In this way, utility and efficiency became the driving forces of OCR innovation as numerous corporate, government, and financial institutions purchased or developed recognition technology for managing large amounts of information. In order for any of these tools to work efficiently, a reliable input pattern must be achieved. The noted OCR developer and prolific inventor Jacob Rabinow writes of the importance of this input in developing his pattern-matching technique after working with Vannevar Bush on his Rapid Selector. Thus, the typographic challenge facing OCR developers was to develop a font as reliable and uniform as a pattern of dots that yet remained legible to human readers. Emphasizing the benefit of strict control for minimizing costs, Rabinow later wrote, "Now, how can we get this control? The answer is Standardize. Standardize the type of paper, standardize the size of paper, standardize the quality of printing, standardize the quality of printing, standardize the format, and standardize the font". This drive for standardization had culminated three years prior to Rabinow's writing in a standard document issued in 1966 by the United States of America Standards Institute (USASI). This document, X3.17-1966, presented a recommendation for a standard set of alphanumeric character shapes for OCR, including 10 numerals, 26 letters (capital), 17 symbols, and 4 abstract symbols. Shortly after the design and publication of OCR-A, the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) sponsored an alternative character set, eventually released by the ISO as ISO-B or OCR-B (Frutiger).

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Luc Devroye ⦿ School of Computer Science ⦿ McGill University Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6 ⦿ lucdevroye@gmail.com ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org/fonts.html