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In the case of spare parts and components, snapping a photo of the part is much more effective than conducting a text search, that often finds too many parts to look through or no matches. A new search engine lets you find products, parts, and drawings in a database using a photo or even a hand-sketch.

The technology will help the US Department of Defense manage its digital assets.

Imaginestics, a Purdue University-affiliated software company, has received a one-year contract from the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to make its engineering data instantly accessible for part identification, maintenance and repairs. 

The Army base currently has tens of thousands of paper blueprints for legacy parts, created before the era of digital design. Working in partnership with the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), the military base is now scanning these physical documents, saving them as PDF files.

The data management team subsequently will engage the VizSeek visual search engine technology from Imaginestics. The search engine will scan each PDF and extract data from the engineering drawing, creating a database that can be searched by text, attribute, geometry or a combination of these. 

Army personnel can then instantly locate the data by searching the database. When there is a critical need to identify a replacement part, this can now be done in seconds instead of hours, according to purdue.edu.

VizSeek search engine identifies the exact match for a product within a category. It allows shape search across file types, such as using an image or a 2D drawing to find 3D models.

According to the company, this search engine is based on six patents, and it has already received major grants from NSF and DoD.