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Must read: The amazing history of the barcode

Last updated on: December 29, 2012 16:00 IST

Must read: The amazing history of the barcode

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In the 21st century, a lot has been heard as well as spoken about barcodes at large. If I were to visit a supermarket or a departmental store at large, then I would be pleased to get my hands on to products that have barcodes engraved on the same. The reason behind the same is a well-known fact that talks about the ease that has been instilled into checkout procedures ever since the barcodes were put into use.

However, like me are you aware about the deeper realities that are associated with barcodes such as the year in which they were introduced, various modifications that were seen in the same and so also the process which eventually led to the introduction of the very fine barcodes that are in use today?

If the answer to these questions is a flat no, then in that case you will be pleased to know that my further discussion is likely to revolve around the history of barcodes as well as their working in general.

Note: This year barcode completed its 60th anniversary and special thanks to WaspBarcode for visualising the 60 Years of Journey of the Barcode in Infographic.

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Image: This year barcode completed its 60th anniversary and special thanks to WaspBarcode for visualising the 60 Years of Journey of the Barcode in Infographic.
Photographs: WaspBarcode
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The stepping stone behind the introduction of barcodes

Let me tell you for the very first time the idea of developing this particular system was initiated when a graduate student overheard the president of a local food chain directing his deans to come up with a system that could provide complete access to the real product information during the time of checkout.

This particular instance took place way back in the year 1948. On hearing this requirement, the graduate student started working on a number of alternative systems and eventually unveiled the very first system, which happened to make use of ultraviolet ink. Soon after its introduction it was pointed out that this particular system did not suffice as the ink used in this particular system was not just costly, but at the same time faded away easily.

However, even though the first system failed to produce miracles it was a known fact that there was much more that this system could offer, which is exactly why the decision to develop the same further was given priority.

The next system that was developed happened to take its inspiration from the Morse code. In this particular system, one was likely to have an encounter with dots and dashes that were extended downwards, which led to formation of narrow as well as wide lines out of the same. In order to make the same readable, a 500 watt light bulb along with a photomultiplier tube was put into use.

Once this was done, the next thought that happened to strike this graduate student was to come up with a circle for the same so that it could be read from any direction altogether.

The next move with regards to this was taken by one of the co-inventors who also happened to be an IBM employee who went ahead and persuaded them to get the patent and develop the same. However, IBM wasn't forthcoming enough to purchase the patent. Eventually, in the year 1962, Philco went ahead and purchased the patent, which was then sold off to Radio Corporation of America.

Simultaneously, yet another system, which was similar to that of the barcode system came to be introduced in order to identify the train carriages. This particular barcode-like system happened to make use of blue and yellow reflective bars. However, in the late 70's the system was abandoned due to the bad economic scenario.

Following this, one of the lead engineers parted ways with the railway project in order to float Computer Identics Corporation, the aim of which was to put into use lasers coupled with scanning mirrors in order to detect and locate the barcode and that also several feet up from the scanner.


Photographs: WaspBarcode

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Some initial obstacles

Once the barcode system came into existence, it failed to receive a favourable response from the masses. Moreover, people were divided in their opinions regarding the same, which is exactly why they did not welcome the barcode system with open arms. Yet another problem that was encountered by the barcode system was with respect to the expensive machines that were required in order to read the barcodes.

This happened to be one major reason that prevented the shop owners from adopting the barcode system at large. However with the passage of time the situation happened to reverse. Positive signs were witnessed in relation to the barcode system.

From the year 1980 onward, each and every year around 8,000 stores began switching to the barcode system, which led to the massive growth of the system altogether.


Photographs: WaspBarcode
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How does the barcode system work?

Let me bring to your notice the fact that throws light on a good number of diverse barcodes that are available out there of late. However, the ones that are mainly put into use are none other than the UPC barcodes, which are better known as the Universal Product Codes.

In the current barcode system each and every digit is known to be covered with two black as well as two while stripes respectively. The stripes are known to come with a width of one to four units.

Furthermore, the total width for each digit is known to always stand at seven units.

I will be glad to share with you a number of steps that are put into practice in order to cut down the errors that are related to the barcode system.

These steps are mainly taken in order to make it easy for the computer to read the barcodes. However, all said and done on a very basic level adopting this particular approach is known to assist the computer in detecting whether or not the barcode is being read from the wrong end while it is being scanned.


Photographs: WaspBarcode
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At a very primary level, some of the digits of the barcode are known to be reversed from right to left. Similarly, at times in some part of the code the black and white stripes are interchanged because of which the black stripes end up coming across as the white ones and vice versa.

The concluding note:

I would like to bring to your notice the fact that if you decide to go into further depth regarding the barcode system, then you will end up having an encounter with the wide spectrum of barcodes that are available out there, which include one dimensional barcodes, 2D barcodes and so on and so forth.

All said and done, I would like to claim that if you have been unaware about the facts that are associated with the barcode system, then in that case one quick glance through the above article is likely to assist you in many many ways.


Photographs: WaspBarcode
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