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Kirtas named as finalist for its book-scanning technology

Tiny Victor-based Kirtas Technologies Inc. shares honors with heady company as a finalist for the World Technology Network’s 2004 World Technology Awards.
The seven-worker Kirtas makes book-scanning machines that use a robotic page-turning arm. It shared finalist honors with Motorola Inc., Google Inc. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in the corporate IT hardware category. Apple Computer Inc. won the category.
Kirtas’ APT Bookscan 1200-developed using technology spawned at Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto Research Center-went into production less than a year ago, becoming an instant hit with libraries, government agencies and companies anxious to put terabytes of material now recorded in bound volumes into digital form.
The World Technology Network is made up of 800 individuals and organizations from some 50 countries. The organization singles out winners and finalists for outstanding technological achievements in some 20 individual and corporate categories ranging from biotechnology, space and the environment to journalism. Co-sponsors include Microsoft Corp., Nasdaq, Time, Fortune, Technology and Science magazines and CNN.
“We are thrilled to be included with such a prestigious group,” Kirtas Technologies CEO Lotfi Belkhir said.
A former Xerox engineer at Xerox’s Webster research center and PARC, Belkhir first encountered the robot page-turning technology at PARC and asked to be put in charge of the page-turning project.
“I became very excited when I saw that machine,” he told the Rochester Business Journal last year.
When Xerox decided to shelve the page-turning project in the late 1990s, Belkhir asked to license the technology and formed Kirtas to develop and market book-scanning machines.
The company is financed by private investment. Its name-an anagram of the words “at risk”-is meant to refer not to a risky investment but to the risk incurred by those who would fail to digitize information stored in bound volumes, Belkhir said. The APT 1200 has succeeded beyond Belkhir’s expectations.
While the robot scanner’s market might seem esoteric, Kirtas appears to have tapped into a huge unmet demand for digitizing bound materials. When Belkhir was just kicking the company off in the summer 2003, government agencies lined up to see APT 1200 demonstrations in sessions arranged by a Library of Congress official. So many were interested in the machine that he had to schedule two extra days of demonstrations, Library of Congress chief digital scanner Lynn Brooks said at the time.
The Kirtas machine, which uses a very high-end digital camera, has proved popular because it produces images of as good or better quality than the best flat-bed scanners, but whips through bound volumes far faster without damaging the original volume, Belkhir said.
Belkhir declines to state revenues. When he kicked off the company a little over a year ago he projected sales of $10 million. The company is exceeding expectations, Belkhir said last month.
It is not only moving the $120,000 APT 1200 machines out the door at a steady clip but also started a service division that does business scanning books for clients at 19 cents a page. Belkhir projects service division orders eventually to total some 12 million pages a year and expects to hire some 20 additional workers to staff it.
(rbj@rbj.net / 585-546-8303)

10/29/04 (C) Rochester Business Journal


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