In my home I now have a "home computer", for a while in the kitchen, now in the living room. Of course I have had computers in my home since the 70s, but this one is different. It's an old cheap laptop I picked up, not powerful at all. What's different is how I use it.
I have connected a Visioneer sheetfed scanner to it. I can drop papers and business cards into it and it scans them. Then I drop them in a box. I have scans of all the receipets and other documents, but if for some reason I need the original I can see by date which ones were nearby and presumably find it quickly enough. A good idea might be to drop a coloured sheet in once a month.
This has inspired me to design a simple device which would be very cheap to build. It's a small sheetfed scanner like this one, which is the size of a 3-hole punch. It's battery powered so it can be stuck anywhere. It has no cables going into it, instead it has a memory card slot, such as compact flash.
When you scan, the data would just be written to the flash card. (Nicely this means the scans are fast.) A button or two on the scanner might set some basic options (like colour or gray, delete and rescan etc.) At most a small LCD panel would be all you get.
When the flash is full, you would take it to the computer, which would do all the real work. Scan and process the data. Convert grayscales to bitmaps at the right level as desired. OCR the text for searching and indexing. Detect orientation, tilt, business cards (by size) etc. all automatically.
And of course then let you view and organize your papers on the computer.
We've dreamed of a paperless office for some time but never gotten there (though we get a little closer all the time.) But can we get to a paperless home, or at least a lower-paper home? I find the paperwork and nitty-gritty of managing a home gets more frustrating with time and hope something can help it.
As noted, my design is extremely cheap. The scanner, a small controller and a flash interface is about all there is too it. Cheaper than the current scanners, which can be had well under $100. The flash card is the expensive part.The paperport software that comes with the Visioneer is OK, though it also could use some improvement. Ideas include detecting business cards from their size, and also allowing you to feed in multiple business cards at a time since the scanner is 11" wide.
Also useful would be automatic detection of the orientation of text, and better handling of errors, like noticing if I tried to scan the same thing twice.
Paperport uses a proprietary format, and the zoomed-in view doesn't allow you to name the documents. Changes like this are a no-brainer, though.
Of course I also get a lot of this by joining Paytrust.com, which receives many of my bills, scans them, converts them and lets me pay them. They have had a few bugs over the years, and their end-of-year CD has pointless encryption that ads no security and gets in the way, but overall it's one of the few internet services really worth paying for. The home scanner does the other half.
Other notes: A more expensive, double sided model would be nice. Flash is getting cheap, let the PC decide the other side was blank.
No need for much UI on the scanner. Instead, configure the scanner by writing choices to the flash card. The scanner can read them and know your preferences, even the time and date (to the minute) if you know to walk the card over to the scanner quickly.
Again, the goal is a very inexpensive design with minimal part count. Battery powered, you could have more than one. Of course, fancier scanners including flatbed and overhead digital camera are also possible.
Update in response to a question in the comments: Note that while OCR on random documents to convert them to text is hard, OCR for searching is much easier. You only have to understand some of the letters, and ideally when you don't, you can store, 'That was either "u" or "o" or "ii"' so that pattern matching can fit queries. Then you just show the documents that might match, including some non-matches, and let the user pick the real document they wanted. What you really want to do is sort the documents according to how likely it is they contain the words "phone bill", and let the human do the final pick.
Finally, a note of credit: I first saw somebody scanning personal documents with one of these when visiting Bob Frankston's house. Bob is always way ahead of the curve on gadgets.
So who's ready to build this?