The California Research Center (CRC) of Ricoh Innovations, Inc. is quickly approaching its 20th anniversary. Founded in 1989, CRC’s charter was to perform fundamental research to ensure the technological future of Ricoh. Ricoh is a manufacturer of office equipment, including copiers, printers and electro-optics, and is a global remote management service provider. A $20 billion enterprise, Ricoh Company, Ltd. (RCL) and its subsidiaries have more than 80,000 employees in 150 companies. Ricoh is well known and highly respected in Japan and around the world and has a reputation for high-quality manufacturing and service. One of Ricoh’s core values is sustainable environmental management and our environmental activities led to a Gold Medal from the World Environment Center in 2003.
Ricoh has several large research facilities in Japan, supplemented by the California Research Center and a software research center in Beijing. CRC has a strong connection to Ricoh Japan, in particular its research divisions, with frequent visits from corporate officials and research colleagues alike. Our offices are located in the heart of Silicon Valley, right on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park.
The twenty research scientists at CRC conduct research in a variety of areas, including document workflow, multimedia document capture and analysis, media organization and communication and, more recently, digital optics and document-centric devices. CRC has always developed software prototypes and hardware designs, but now has the facilities and expertise to create complete electronic devices—from circuit boards and enclosures to system software and user-interfaces. Overall, our efforts have resulted in more than 300 issued U.S. patents, and numerous peer-reviewed conference and journal publications. Also, CRC researchers have garnered several external awards, such as best paper awards and fellowships from major international technical societies. CRC scientists often deliver plenary lectures and invited papers.
CRC has had a direct impact on Ricoh in a number of ways. CRC creates new technology that leads to new products and services. For example, CRC created the world’s fastest JPEG software and its smallest ASIC implementation for digital cameras, and wavelet-based image processing for Ricoh’s modern copiers. CRC researchers were instrumental in developing the technology behind JPEG 2000 and shepherding it through the standards process.
CRC develops technology for improving electro-optimal imaging systems, making them smaller, cheaper, and easier to manufacture than traditional systems. Specifically, CRC introduced a new design method for optical systems, which optimizes both the lenses and image processing simultaneously, a method we call Joint Optics/Image Processing Optimization, or JOIPO. Traditional optical design methods are sequential: optical engineers design the lens system to minimize the point spread function of the image focused on the sensor, and then image-processing experts design a filter to enhance the captured image. In contrast, in JOIPO, lens design and image-processing parameters are adjusted simultaneously during the search for the optimal system, even if the quality of the intermediate optical image suffers. JOIPO consistently leads to designs that are less expensive and of higher quality than traditional designs, and also leads to higher manufacturing yields because such designs are more robust to fabrication errors. Because most of Ricoh’s products contain optical elements, JOIPO design tools are being explored in many areas of the company.
For many years, Ricoh has been interested in linking the physical and electronic world to support business workflow and document retrieval. The most popular approach was to print a visible marker such as a glyph or barcode somewhere on the document. Recently, CRC invented a technique for identifying a document that works without modifying the document itself. Using this new technology, it is possible to distinguish a text patch as small as one square inch that can act as a unique fingerprint of the document. This patch can be used either to access the original electronic document or to link multimedia data to the document. Our technology thus allows a piece of paper to work like a web page. “Hot spots” can be defined on a printed document; when a user points a cell-phone camera at one of these hot spots, the related web site or media appears on the phone. This technology has recently been used to supplement the NetRicoh office supply catalog by providing cell phone users with video and other multimedia related to specific catalog pages.
Research projects at CRC have always been initiated by the researchers themselves. However, recognizing that many innovations come from users, we have recently taken several steps to connect with Ricoh customers in an effort to apply our research strengths to issues that affect customers directly.
Users are the direct beneficiaries of better products and they often invent improvements in their own work processes. Ricoh, with leadership from CRC, creates products that allow customization by the user, including a Java-based SDK for customizing a user-interface on a multi-function copier and an award-winning digital camera containing a web server. The Advanced Business Center (ABC), a sister organization within RII, gains insights into the needs of actual customers by collaborating with them in the field. ABC studies a customer site looking for user needs and then delivers a solution, closely watching how that solution is adopted and bringing their findings back to Ricoh business units. CRC researchers have begun working closely with ABC to determine new research directions.
Of course, one of the most important products of CRC is intellectual property. After filing patents, CRC researchers are encouraged to publish and present technical results and take an active role in the larger research community and professional organizations. We work not just with researchers from Ricoh in Japan, but often with researchers from the academic community and occasionally with other research labs, recognizing that innovation can benefit by cross-organizational collaboration. RII provides some financial support to young professors at universities around the world, including professors at Stanford and Berkeley. CRC balloons in size in the summer when it brings on a number of summer interns to become an integral part of our research teams.
With only 20 researchers, CRC is relatively small and will stay that way. What makes CRC unique is its power to weight ratio. Our impact on Ricoh and the research community is much larger than one would expect from such a small group. CRC researchers are passionate about their work, and we’ve been fortunate to play an important role in a large and successful company and to work in the dynamic and inspiring atmosphere of Silicon Valley.
John Barrus became Director of the California Research Center (CRC) of Ricoh Innovations, Inc. on April 1, 2008.