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Digital imaging company pictures ATM-like photo developer

Digital Now unveils photo-processing technology that develops film negatives without liquid chemicals while it scans and creates digital copies of the images.

Digital imaging company Digital Now today unveiled photo-processing technology that develops film negatives without liquid chemicals while it scans and creates digital copies of the images.

The P-Scan Dry Film Technology is still in the testing phase and won't be produced in commercial products until at least next year, according to the company. Still, it promises to increase pressure on traditional photo companies, which have been racing to keep up with a wave of new products unleashed by digital technology and the Internet.

"It seems to be a sure shot in the advances of the photo-processing industry," said Huyen Pham, an analyst at La Jolla, Calif.-based ARS. "It takes it a step further and makes it user-friendly and environmentally safe."

Traditional photo companies have moved aggressively to deal with digital technology, but they face unprecedented competition from a slew of online photo start-ups that use digital offerings to augment traditional photo-finishing services, including Snapfish, Shutterfly and Ofoto. Although digital camera sales are expected to grow rapidly and eventually displace film-based cameras, most of these companies offer hybrid services, allowing customers to mail in film negatives and get back prints plus digital copies on the Internet.

Digital Now's technology goes one step further, seeking to provide the instant gratification provided by digital cameras.

Because the chemical-free process helps traditional photo processors eliminate the production of hazardous waste, Pham added, other countries, particularly those that are underdeveloped, would have the opportunity to compete in the photo-processing industry.

Digital Now plans to use P-Scan in an auto photo machine, which the company envisions as similar to automated teller machines. Processing film takes about two minutes using the system, the company said.

A customer takes a roll of film to an auto photo machine; selects whether the film is to be printed, put into a digital format, or both; and selects where the pictures are to be delivered--either to a street address or uploaded on the Internet.

"It's a powerful way of getting immediate gratification to people using traditional film and digital film," said Digital Now chief executive Stephen Giordano. "We want the experience to be the same amount of time as if someone was using the ATM."

He said that the process involves a special paste that is placed on the film, which is then heated and cooled before it is scanned.

Giordano added that the technology is being exhibited at the Photokina show in Germany. He said he expects the first prototype of an auto photo machine to be released in February 2001.

ARS' Pham said, however, that since the company's "dry processing" technology is still in the testing phase, it remains to be seen how the company positions itself and whether the general public will easily accept it.

"It's going to take time," Pham said. "If they're using a kiosk, they have stiff competition from Kodak, which has its own photo kiosk."