Photo/Illutration A robot makes its way along a passage between bookshelves to take stock of books at Omonogawa Library in Yokote, Akita Prefecture, on March 11. (Tsutomu Yamatani)

YOKOTE, Akita Prefecture--Stocktaking of books at a municipal library here is now fully automated under a trial experiment that potentially could see humans removed from the process altogether.

A robot assigned to locate books by reading data stored in integrated circuit (IC) tags on each tome can finish the task in a matter of "several tens of minutes" whereas it takes a full day for library staff to take stock of books by relying on bar codes, authorities of this northeastern city said during a recent open demonstration test.

The robot read the data with 99.5 percent accuracy, officials said, adding that the technology will be further tweaked with the goal of practical application in the future.

The test was conducted in early March in line with an agreement among four parties, including the city government, a robot manufacturer and a systems development company.

IC tags are attached to each library book to automate loan and return procedures, prevent theft and save labor, which includes stocktaking of inventory. The trial was intended to help explore the potential for reducing the workload of employees and providing new services to users.

The test at Omonogawa Library, where IC tags were applied beforehand, involved 20,000 books. A converted dish delivery robot was assigned to the task. The device, which stands 180 centimeters tall and 60 cm wide, is equipped with six antennas, three to each side of its upper body.

The robot is designed to drive itself when it is given a plan of the library’s interior and instructions on areas it is required to tour.

During the experiment, the robot was seen swiveling its antenna portion as it whisked through passages between bookshelves at a speed of 15 cm per second, or 0.54 kph, reading data contained in IC tags on nearby books.

The ratio of successful data reading is expected to improve further from the current 99.5 percent if the metal bookends on the shelves are replaced or if the bookshelves are separated farther away from walls.

City authorities are weighing plans to introduce IC tags, and possibly also use a robot, at Shin-Yokote Library, which they plan to open in fiscal 2024.

“It’s mostly fine with data reading,” said an official with the city government’s library division. “We are looking forward to future developments as we seek to overcome challenges.”