The first barcode, with a design like a bullseye, was invented in 1948 by two Drexel University students named Norman J Woodland and Bernard Silver. They were interested in tackling the problems of the supermarket industry, which sorely needed a better method of inventory management and customer check-out. The pair received a patent in 1952. Long story short, it worked in the lab but was wildly impractical due to the limitations of the technology of the day.
The first practical implementation of a linear barcode came in the 1960s. The Association of American Railroads sponsored the project and Sylvania (Needham, Massachusetts) built the KarTrak ACI (Automatic Car Identification) system.
The KarTrak barcode reader was a machine the size of a refrigerator. It would activate as the train approached, shine a 500-watt light on the cars and a sensor would interpret the reflections. The data would print out on a teletype machine, paper or magnetic tape. In some cases, data could be recorded directly to a computer (keeping in mind that computers of the day could fill a small room).
Yet just three short years later in 1978, KarTrak was abandoned. Many reasons are cited such as poor read accuracy, lack of maintenance of the barcodes, the high cost of computers and a rash of railroad bankruptcies.
At the height of KarTrak's success, Collins was growing increasingly frustrated at Sylvania. He couldn't convince his management to pursue other markets for his barcode technology. He decided to quit Sylvania and co-founded Computer Identics Corporation.
Computer Identics used increasingly-affordable helium-neon lasers to illuminate barcodes. The 500-watt light bulbs used previously were wasteful and difficult due to the heat they would generate. Barcodes could only be read in one direction. By contrast, lasers could be directed using motorized, moving mirrors which enabled scanning barcodes rapidly from a wide variety of angles. It was a major improvement in speed, accuracy and reliability. It allowed the scanner to read partially-damaged labels because the moving laser would eventually scan the undamaged areas.
This new laser-based barcode system found a happy home in a General Motors manufacturing plant in Pontiac, Michigan. It was successfully used to track the manufacture of car axles. This victory propelled the nascent technology forward and cemented Computer Identics' place in the industrial history books.
RCA had purchased the original barcode patent, but ultimately, IBM (who didn't have the patent but did have Norman Woodland, the original inventor) ultimately won the race with the invention of the linear UPC barcode (more on UPC in the next section). UPC beat out RCA's bullseye barcode design primarily due to limitations of the printers of the age. Bullseye barcodes would sometimes smear in the direction the paper stock was running through the printer, whereas UPC barcodes (being just vertical lines) did not. That was the clincher.
The invention of the UPC barcode, the falling cost of lasers and the rise of the integrated circuit all coincided to enable the most significant achievement in logistics in the millennium -- buying a pack of gum. On June 26, 1974, at 8:01 am, Sharon Buchanan scanned the first grocery item ever in a Marsh's Supermarket in Troy, Ohio -- a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum. The pack of gum and receipt are now in the Smithsonian Museum.
To the delight of cashiers everywhere, many supermarkets in the US in the 1980s adopted barcode scanning technology. The Universal Product Code (UPC) symbol was the barcode of choice, and today can be found on nearly every manufactured retail item.
What you might find interesting about a UPC barcode (UPC-A, to be specific) is that it encodes just two facts: Manufacturer and Product Code. The barcode shown above translates to, \"General Mills\" (the manufacturer) and \"21-oz Family Size box of Cheerios\" (the product code). Point of fact -- 21 ounces of Cheerios does not feed a family for very long.
If you pick up five boxes of Cheerios of the same size and package design, they will all have the exact same UPC number. Therefore, in the supermarket anyway, UPC barcodes are not unique tracking numbers. They are essentially a part number.
UPC supports no letters and no special characters like punctuation. This limits the range of numbers you can encode to whatever you can cram into 11 digits (0 through 99,999,999,999). While 100+ billion unique numbers might sound like a lot, other kinds of barcodes can do better by allowing non-numeric characters as well as longer codes. These facts make UPC codes a poor choice for use in serialized, physical asset tracking systems.
Sadly, my independent supermarket did not adopt barcode technology. Which meant that as a cashier, it was my job to manually key in the price of every item being purchased by the customer. I learned that manual data entry is both soul-sucking and prone to human error. For this reason, at TrackAbout, we strive to eliminate manual data entry whenever possible.
In the year 2000, U.S. publications like Wired, Parade magazine and Forbes began printing proprietary barcodes next to articles and advertisements. The intent of the barcodes was to require readers to scan them in order to \"learn more\".
This all happened before the advent of the modern smartphone. The barcodes could only be read with a device called a :CueCat. Yes, that's a leading colon and yes, the device looks like a cat, and yes, they probably thought it was clever that a cat would be plugged into a PC next to a mouse. Marketing!
There was a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem in that you couldn't read a proprietary barcode without a proprietary barcode scanner. Thus subscribers of the aforementioned publications woke up one day to find a :CueCat device in their mailbox. Radio Shack gave away, for free, thousands of the devices at its retail stores (just one of many reasons it cited for its eventual bankruptcy in 2015).
Full disclosure, I own a couple of :CueCats. Wired sent me one and I picked up another free from RadioShack (sorry if I contributed to your demise, old friend). I \"neutered\" the cats by following some instructions I found on the Internet to disable the proprietary encoders and turn them into generic barcode scanners. No actual cats were harmed in this endeavor.
Now, the fun part. Imagine you're relaxing on the weekend, chilling on the sofa, reading a magazine. For the sake of argument, we're going to have to assume you only read magazines within range of a PC. Goodness! What's this barcode next to this Coca-Cola ad What more can I learn about this mysterious product Let's find out. Get up and get over to the computer. Boot it up. This being circa-2000, it takes a while. Log in. Dial-up to the internet (year 2000, right). Grab your :CueCat and scan the barcode (you remembered to bring the magazine, didn't you). Now wait patiently for a web page to progressively load bearing the gift of additional advertising. Enjoy.
Barcodes and other kinds of ID tags are everywhere, tracking everything that moves in novel and clever ways. if you turn your head from right to left (eyes open, please), you'll probably spot at least three items near you that have barcodes on them.
Today, barcodes are used to identify patients in hospitals, validate prescriptions, automate manufacturing processes, log into wifi networks, exchange contact information, check in airline passengers and movie-goers, check out groceries and other retail purchases, help you track your calories using smartphone apps and much, much more. Recently, I scanned a QR code posted at a bus stop and my smartphone told me how many minutes until the next bus. Oh, and barcodes are also used to track physical assets through the supply chain, which is why I'm writing this book.
There's a lot to know about barcodes, but from here on out, we're going to focus on the asset tracking space. I look forward to exploring the world of barcodes and asset tracking with you. I hope you enjoy the journey.
For a beautifully-produced podcast on the origin of the barcode, please listen to Episode 108: Barcodes from the 99% Invisible podcast distributed by PRX.Wikipedia: KarTrakBarcoding.com: Barcodes Sweep the World by Tony SeidemanWired: June 26, 1974: Supermarket Scanner Rings Up Historic Pack of GumJohn Keyes: KarTrakA guide to ACI (Automatic Car Identification)/Kar Trak labelsWikipedia: CueCat
*The eTickets printed at the station ticket counter or Amtrak kiosk look different from the print-anywhere eTicket PDF but serve the same purpose. The difference is: from the station ticket counter or Amtrak kiosk, each eTicket is issued based on the individual passenger's name, not reservation number; each eTicket contains up to two travel segments only.
A barcode or bar code is a method of representing data in a visual, machine-readable form. Initially, barcodes represented data by varying the widths, spacings and sizes of parallel lines. These barcodes, now commonly referred to as linear or one-dimensional (1D), can be scanned by special optical scanners, called barcode readers, of which there are several types. Later, two-dimensional (2D) variants were developed, using rectangles, dots, hexagons and other patterns, called matrix codes or 2D barcodes, although they do not use bars as such. 2D barcodes can be read using purpose-built 2D optical scanners, which exist in a few different forms. 2D barcodes can also be read by a digital camera connected to a microcomputer running software that takes a photographic image of the barcode and analyzes the image to deconstruct and decode the 2D barcode. A mobile device with an inbuilt camera, such as smartphone, can function as the latter type of 2D barcode reader using specialized application software (The same sort of mobile device could also read 1D barcodes, depending on the application software). 59ce067264