What is OCR?

OCR, or optical character recognition, refers to software that’s able to convert written text or printed letters into a digital format. It’s one of the most important technologies behind lots of products, but is never given the attention it deserves. That’s why it’s time to zoom in on this incredible feat of digital automation — what it is, how it works and why it’s used in so many products.

Teaching computers how to read

We come across text-based documents in almost every part of our lives — from sending work emails to signing an employment contract. A lot of them live on our laptops, phones or in the cloud, but others are printed, hand-written or otherwise exist in physical space. This comes with a unique challenge — while the information in digital docs can easily be read and used by computers, this isn’t the case for analog text.

Taking a photo of a document with a camera or a flatbed scanner only creates a digital image that’s made up of pixels with different properties that define its colour and brightness. A computer can display, reproduce or edit the image, but not understand it. In order to do this, the device needs the ability to look at an image and recognize the abstract shapes we call letters and numbers — in short, it would need to be able to read. That’s exactly what Ray Kurzweil did when he created the first computer that could read printed text in 1974.

Expanding possibilities

It quickly became clear that this technology could be used for more than just accessibility purposes. At the turn of the millennium, companies started experimenting with OCR in computing, enabling them to turn paper documents or image files into data that could be edited by a computer. Today, it’s used in a large variety of applications — here’s a list of some popular examples.

What is OCR used for?

  • Automatic number plate recognition by traffic police
  • Digitizing entire libraries of books by services like Google Books
  • Reading passport information at airports or border control
  • Converting handwriting into digital text
  • Helping blind and visually impaired people with reading documents
  • Scanning documents to help an organisation go paperless
  • Clearing cheques by automatically confirming handwritten information

One of the most popular use cases, however, is data entry. Ever since people invented computers, they’ve been looking for ways to have them do their work — and this is one of the best examples. Having to manually enter information into a computer can eat up a lot of time, especially when you have to do it on a regular basis, like in an office job. But almost everyone who uses a computer for work has to do it sometimes — no matter if it’s copying data into an Excel sheet, transcribing interview notes or filling out an expense form.

Ready to digitalise your finance department?

Supercharge your expense management with OCR

In fact, expense management is one of the tasks that can benefit the most from automatic data entry. Getting out your stack of receipts and invoices to manually copy every line item can take a while — and if you travel a lot for work, chances are you need to do it at least once a month.

At Rydoo, we use the power of OCR to make processing your expenses a breeze. Download the expense management app to turn your smartphone in a cutting-edge receipt scanner. Open up the scanner, take a picture of your receipt and our sophisticated recognition algorithm gets to work. Make sure you select the right expense category, the relevant project and the payment method you used — we’ll take care of the rest. Within seconds the expense is registered and, if required, sent to the relevant manager for approval. It’s that easy!

Why you’ll love using Rydoo’s receipt scanner

There are countless benefits to using our advanced OCR technology. Think about the fact that you’ll never lose your receipts again — instead of saving up several months worth of tickets, you can now process them right after your purchase. Take a picture, save it to Rydoo and throw out the receipt — you’re done!

No matter how much you sweat the details, everyone makes a typo once every while — but it can be problematic if you accidentally write down the wrong numbers from your payments. This is a thing of the past thanks to our accurate character recognition — now you’ll always get reimbursed the right amount.

Another annoyance is having to deal with currency conversion. With Rydoo there’s no need to look up current rates anymore — it’s all handled automatically. Our scanner instantly recognizes the currency on the receipt and converts it to your home currency, saving you precious time.

Need even more reasons to get started with Rydoo’s Receipt Scanner? We’ve got you covered.

Experience our scanning technology yourself

Originally published 2019-08-07 , modified 2020-11-10

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