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Barcode Technology

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Essay title: Barcode Technology

Barcode Technology

Description and Evolution of Technology

Barcode technology is ubiquitous in modern civilization. The technology itself arose in research labs as a response to industry demand in the early fifties. By the eighties, barcodes had evolved from their predecessors and been implemented throughout the retail sectors of the globe. Today, traditional barcodes have been credited for saving Canadian companies over $17B per year . Nevertheless, barcodes are regarded as a mature technology with diminutive room for advancement. As society craves more storage capacity in identification tags, there is a shift in focus towards Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags which is poised to replace barcodes as the dominant design. Figure 1 shows the S-curves for barcode technology.

Barcodes were invented in 1948 by Bernard Silver, and Norman Woodland at the Drexel Institute of Technology. These two graduate students were awarded U.S. Patent 2612994 for this technology in 1952, where it was first used for identifying railroad cars. A barcode is essentially a binary code that uses black and white parallel lines to represent 1s and 0s. The “code” which is used to represent information in barcodes is called a symbology. Early symbologies such as “Code 39” could only encode numbers, but later the full ASCII set could be encoded. The most common decoder technology used for scanning barcodes is the laser scanner. Examples of these scanners are those manufactured by Symbol Technologies (acquired by Motorola in January 9th, 2007) which can be seen in many supermarkets.

Barcodes did not diffuse into industry until decades after its invention. It was first put into commercial use in 1966, when the National Association of Food Chains (NAFC) won the design competition and pushed for the use of this technology in supermarkets. The difficulty in implementing barcodes was due to the high cost of both the scanners for the retail outlets, and the labels for manufacturers. After many years of incremental improvements in symbologies and scanning/printing hardware, barcodes experienced its first revolution in 1974. The UPC standard (Universal Product Code) was introduced by the NAFC to grocery chains nationwide. It became the dominant design and remains the most common symbology used today. UPC is a flexible symbology which can hold more data, as well as support the ASCII set of characters.

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