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European Innovation Prize for Fraunhofer

Technology can assist in compiling history. Fraunhofer researchers receive the European Innovation Prize from the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO) on 4 Dec 2013 for software that reconstructs files of the East German state security service.

The secret estate of the East German state security service (Stasi) filled 16,000 large paper bags. Shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in autumn 1989 employees of the former secret police of the German Democratic Republic shredded about 40 million pages of documents by hand. The result: about 600 million paper fragments that contain the infor- mation about Stasi employees, human assets, and victims. Hand-assembling the pages, which were torn into as many as several dozen pieces each, is only possible to a limited extent and would take centuries. Comprehensive and considerably faster reconstruction will be possible using the ePuzzler, developed by the research- ers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK in Berlin. The software evaluates the previously digitized snippets with the help of complex algo- rithms. Images of matching pieces are sought based on features such as shape, color, texture, lines, and lettering, then joined virtually together. “We immediately reduce the search space of the immense quantity of pieces this way and thereby accelerate the actual puzzle-solving process considerably,” explains Jan Schneider, head of the IPK project. The initiator of the project, Dr. Bertram Nickolay, and his team have now been honored with the EARTO Prize especially for economic and social innovation for this technology shining light on the dark history of the two German states. The award will be presented by the European Association of Research and Technology Organisation this year for the fifth time. “It is a real honor for my team and myself to receive the EARTO Prize. In addition to the challenge of advancing into new and unique technological territory, we were also always motivated by the social import of developing the reconstruction technology,” Nickolay summarizes. The ePuzzler system still has more to learn about how to do its work accurately. Since March 2013 the prototype is trained and optimized during production operation. As a next step, the Fraunhofer researchers hope to develop means to largely automate the digitization process. The ePuzzler’s technology is not only useful just for reconstructing the Stasi files. It is also interesting for reconstruction as well as preservation of culturally and socially significant documents and objects.


Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, United Kingdom