Census processing to use innovative technology

Handwriting recognition technology to speed up census processing
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

There are just two days to go before National Census Day, but for one company the hard work of processing the data is just about to begin.

Systems integration firm Lockheed Martin has been chosen by the Office of National Statistics to ensure the process runs smoothly and it will be employing some innovative technology to help it along the way.

Thirty three million census forms have been sent out, enough to stretch from London to South Africa. This represents a quarter of a billion pages of information, enough if stacked on top of one another to reach 400 times higher than Big Ben and fill 20 million floppy disks.

Lockheed Martin will process a total of 28TB of data altogether and this will be speeded up considerably by the use of an innovative technology designed to read handwriting. It is the first time the technology has been used in Britain -- it was employed for the US census last year. It will speed up the process, allowing 88 forms to be read per minute and has been specifically programmed to read UK handwriting.

The forms will be scanned and the computer will "read" the images captured, deciphering the handwritten information and converting it into digital format. The Data Capture and Coding System (DCCS) being used has proved very accurate in deciphering handwriting, reaching levels of 99 percent.

The Census is intended to give a detailed portrait of life in the UK in 2001 and will be used for planning homes, jobs, schools, health, transport and other services. E-Business firm ICL is organising the logistics of the operation and has created a custom-built warehouse in Widnes, Cheshire. The processing centre will create 1,200 new jobs.

The 1,600 tonnes of paper created will be stored until the end of 2002 and will then be recycled. The processing of data will be complete by March 2002.

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