What Do Those Barcodes Mean?
Imagine standing in a line at the checkout counter in a supermarket, as each item in your shoopping cart is identified, weighed, and priced. Or, you walk into Best Buy to buy a certain configuration of the latest tablet PC and the store manager walks to the back of the store and starts digging through the bins to figure out if they have the unit that you want! Sounds frustrating right?
In today’s fast-paced world, the need to identify products quickly, increase productivity and reduce human error is not only important -- it is a necessity. Enter the world of barcodes, the black and white lines with a few numbers thrown in between, that makes our lives simpler.
History of Bar Codes
Last week was the 60th anniversary of the birth of barcodes. On Oct 7, 1952, Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver first received the patent for a bar code type product. The original bar code was described as a bull’s eye symbol made up a series of concentric circles.
A local food chain owner had made an enquiry to Drexel University to device a method for automatically reading product information during check out. Silver and Woodland, graduate students at Drexel University in Philadelphia, joined together to work out a solution. They came up with a unique method of pattern identificiation that we still use today in the form of barcodes.
Despite receiving a patent, it took several years for barcodes to be commercially used. In 1966, users realized that some sort of industry standard had to be established to make the technology become commonplace and usable. The UPC (Universal Product Code) - a barcode symbology, was born. But to make it really useable, people still needed something to read the barcodes. Along came scanners in 1977 and with that, the use of barcodes suddenly took off. These days, scanners can be found in all shapes and sizes, from wireless devices to hand held models.
Barcodes have evolved into more elaborate and sophisticated symbols that today carry a lot of information. Labels record the name of the manufacturer and even maintain details of coupon codes and gift certificate. Price information is however not encoded in a barcode, to give manufacturers and stores the flexibility to change prices as required.
How do Barcodes Actually work?
Barcodes are fascinating. If you look carefully at a barcode, you will notice a series of black and white stripes. These lines are interpreted by scanners as zeros and ones, a language that computers understand best.
When a laser light from a scanner picks up a barcode label it matches the information through a computer that compares it against a database of the combinations established by the UPC. Barcodes actually consist of 95 black (solid lines) or white (empty spaces) lines. Don’t miss this amazing video that explains the technology behind these tags.
The next time you are doing a self checkout or breezing through the registers at the supermarket, pay attention to those little labels that have truly simplified our lives.
Courtesy: How Stuff Works, About.com