Abell Foundation

Robot brings black history into Internet age

Robot brings black history into Internet age

Baltimore's Afro-American newspaper has a rich photo archive — 1.5 million images dating from the Depression, World War II and the civil rights era up to today.

But one of the nation's oldest African-American newspapers didn't have the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to digitize its historic images for the Internet age. Now, thanks to a little robot built by a former Johns Hopkins student, the effort has gotten a lot cheaper.

Using off-the-shelf electronics, Thomas Smith, a 2011 Hopkins graduate, built Gado, a swiveling, motorized arm with a nozzle that uses vacuum suction to "grab" photos and place them on a scanner. It can take digital...