Robots re­move the te­dium, the pa­per cuts

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Ian King

Most sta­ple re­movers fit in the palm of your hand. This one would fill your liv­ing room and uses ro­bot­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

Rip­cord, a startup backed with a $9.5 mil­lion fund­ing round led by Kleiner Perkins Cau­field & By­ers, has cre­ated a ma­chine its founders think is key to solv­ing a huge prob­lem faced by com­pa­nies as they try to ac­cess data that hasn’t made it into the in­for­ma­tion age — bil­lions of boxes of pa­per files.

“We’re drown­ing in prob­lems,’’ said co-founder and CEO Alex Field­ing. “The is­sue is not de­mand.’’

Like many Sil­i­con Val­ley start ups, Rip­cord be­lieves its tech­nol­ogy is the an­swer to a pro­saic prob­lem. While the in­ter­net has been around for more than 20 years, the amount of print­ing done by com­pa­nies is still in­creas­ing.

All of those forms, in­voices, re­ports and re­ceipts typ­i­cally end up in boxes in ware­houses, where the data sit and are ei­ther use­less or re­quire a lot of time and money to ac­cess.

Rip­cord’s ma­chine aims to take away much of the la­bor of turn­ing that pa­per into us­able elec­tronic in­for­ma­tion. The first prob­lem most peo­ple face when they’re armed with a com­puter and even the fastest desk-top scan­ner is how pa­per files are at­tached to each other. The com­pany reck­ons that it takes the av­er­age per­son six to eight hours to scan a box of pa­pers. Much of the time goes to re­mov­ing sta­ples and other fas­ten­ers that cause the dreaded pa­per jams. A chunk more time is wasted on the cat­e­go­riza­tion and nam­ing of files in the com­puter.

With bil­lions of boxes of files in stor­age across the U.S. alone, that’s a lot of hours of work and pa­per cuts. Rip­cord’s ma­chine takes stacks of pa­per, pulls out any sta­ples and loads them one sheet at a time onto a con­veyor belt for rapid scan­ning, up to one sheet a sec­ond. That seem­ingly inane task is done at break­neck speed by a com­bi­na­tion of in­dus­trial ro­bot and sen­sors all pow­ered by ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence soft­ware.

Rip­cord isn’t just pro­cess­ing pa­per and putting it into boxes. It’s of­fer­ing a ser­vice where it charges as lit­tle as 0.4 cents a sheet per month for scan­ning and up­load­ing to the cloud in for­mats that its cus­tomers can ac­cess and in­te­grate into other com­monly used cor­po­rate com­puter sys­tems. It also stores the in­for­ma­tion for them. The goal: all that pa­per comes out of the ma­chine and goes into the shred­der for re­cy­cling. Ware­hous­ing pa­per in­for­ma­tion is a $25 bil­lion an­nual mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to Hay­ward, Calif.-based Rip­cord.

The ma­chines aren’t go­ing on sale. Rip­cord is aim­ing to de­ploy hun­dreds of the gi­ant de­vices in ware­houses where hop­pers of pa­per will be moved around by robots.

Field­ing is keen to point out that his au­to­mated sys­tem isn’t putting peo­ple out of work, it’s go­ing to change the way that fil­ing work is done. The ma­chines still need hu­man in­put in pre­par­ing files and su­per­vi­sion of the speedy process, even though it has built-in er­ror cor­rec­tion and will even di­vert through a trap door mul­ti­ple sheets or pa­per with sticky notes at­tached.

“We’re not re­plac­ing peo­ple with ma­chines, we’re giv­ing them much more in­ter­est­ing things to do,” Field­ing said. “I don’t think any­one went to col­lege to be­come a hu­man sta­ple re­mover.”

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