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Many of us might assume that with the arrival of the digital age, the function of libraries will naturally cease to exist. Although this is partly true and in some ways a worrying trend, there is hope for these institutions. Many book enthusiasts, children, college students and professors still insist on the sanctity of libraries and visit them frequently for educational purposes, leisure reading or otherwise. There’s nothing like a good old book in hand! But, in this smart era, an improvement to tedious tasks, like laboring down aisles to sift through, sort and arrange books, is warranted and will help ease the burdens of our librarians.

Inspired by this, scientists at Singapore’s Infocomm Research at A*STAR’s Institute, Rejun Li, Zhiyong Huang, Ernest Kurniawan and Chin Keong Ho have designed a tall, wheeled, advanced library robot, AuRoSS (autonomous robotic shelf scanning). This robot autonomously performs the previously mentioned duties. It can also be programmed to steer, navigate and conduct searches for missing, misplaced or out-of-sequence volumes, by means of scanning RFID tags, during off-peak hours or when the institution is closed. What is this RFID technology? Radio Frequency Identification has begun to be implemented in many bookstores and libraries around the world and if you’ve used a library recently you’ll be familiar with it. Every book is affixed with a unique computerized barcode or microchip, read by wireless readers, as a measure for anti-theft, easier cataloging and inventory management.

To monitor stacks of books in real-time, the base of the AuRoSS was fixed with a filtered Hough transform and macro-mini manipulator structure. This acts like an arm and ultrasonic sensor, to help in maneuvering sideways, detection and browsing, respectively. All reports and errors will consequently be logged into a mobile unit for further direction.

Some of the challenges that had to be overcome during the process were maintaining an appropriate distance between the shelves and the robot - too small a distance would cause a hindrance in execution and too much space resulted in a loss of signal. Another challenge was the shapes, variable sizes and heights of the racks which the robot needed to access. The developers also had to take into account different layouts of libraries, and directions within them being too complicated for the robot’s map intelligence.

AuRoSS scans shelves at night looking for misplaced books then alerts the human librarian (Photo: A*STAR)

AuRoSS scans shelves at night looking for misplaced books then alerts the human librarian (Photo: A*STAR)

These issues are constantly being ironed out by paying special attention to data analytics. The AuRoSS is now believed to be 99% accurate in operations and organization, and co-creator Li goes on to mention the praise it received after installation at one of the local public libraries.

Guilty of putting your books back in the wrong place? This high-tech, shelf-scanning librarian knows that book is in the wrong place and will find it and replace it in the right spot for you!

Top image: The AuRoSS. Courtesy of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore

References:

A* STAR Research (2016), http://www.research.a-star.edu.sg/research/7512/high-tech-librarian-knows-its-books, (accessed 13 Mar 2017)

Blakemore, E. (2016), Library Journal, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/08/industry-news/high-tech-shelf-help-singapores-library-robot/, (accessed 13 Mar 2017)

American Library Association, http://www.ala.org/PrinterTemplate.cfm?Section=technotes&Template=/ContentManagement/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=68138, (accessed 14 Mar 2017)

Li, R. et al. (2015), ‘AuRoSS: An autonomous robotic shelf scanning system’, IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems

McDonald, C. (2016), Popular Science, http://www.popsci.com/robo-librarian-tracks-down-misplaced-books, (accessed 14 Mar 2017)

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Meghna Rao, MSc

A postgraduate in Bioscience with work experience in research and communications in the healthcare, medical and scientific domains; areas of specialization include scientific content creation, medical editing, blogging in science and biotechnology, with a fair knowledge in grant writing and scientific journalism. Also, she is passionate about travel blogging, practicing yoga, volunteering in non-profits for education. Read More

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