Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Barcode: Auto-ID's Greatest Achievement

by Nate Schubert

UPC Barcode
The first barcode was first invented by two graduate students at Drexel University, N. Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, in the late 1940's to provide an effective means of making the retail checkout process more efficient. Since then, many barcode types have been introduced to various markets in order to meet a range of needs in many different applications including inventory control, logistics, document control, asset tracking and more. Without that first barcode, these advancements may never have been made.

The first barcode types to be introduced into industries throughout the world were known as linear barcodes. Including popular symbologies like Code 128, Code 39, UPC and Intelligent Mail, these rectangular boxes consist of narrow and wide bars that, when decoded by a hand-held barcode scanner or barcode reading software program, will output the data originally encoded within. Linear barcodes have long been an excellent choice for users who need to encode approximately 50 characters or less. Encoding more than 50 characters can result in very long linear barcodes that are difficult for many scanning devices to read.

Code 49 was the first two-dimensional barcode put into use. It was created in 1998 by Intermec, a popular manufacturer of barcode scanning devices. Since then, many other 2D barcode types have been introduced into the market. As with common types such as Data Matrix or QR Code, 2D barcodes store encoded data both vertically and horizontally which allows much more data to be encoded. In fact, some 2D barcodes boast character-encoding limits approaching 7,000 although most 2D barcode scanners are capable of reading approximately 800 characters without difficulty. 2D barcodes have opened up the automatic identification field in such a way that users can encode much more information than previously available with linear barcodes. With 2D barcodes, users can encoder letters, numbers, special characters and even complex functions that can space encoded data out into separate field.

In this dynamic technological landscape, it is hard to say what the future holds for barcode technology. That said, there is no question that this exceptional invention will continue to impact our lives in ways that we may never fully realize.

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