Barcodes were invented to solve a problem—that is the bedrock of their existence. Kroger volunteered one of their stores for market research and in 1974 it all became history with the scanning of the first barcode in a retail store. From there, every evolutionary step in barcode technology has been to solve the next presenting problem.
Once UPC established itself as a viable technology, Code 39 was invented in response to the need to encode alpha-numeric data. Several attempts were made in response to the need to encode more data: addendum codes such as Bookland EAN and UPC Coupon Code, stacked linear codes such as PDF417 and GS1 Databar in its several forms. Matrix or 2D codes such as QR Code and Data Matrix Code have emerged as a truly viable solution.
Now concerns about data security are giving rise to new developments in barcode technology, such as digital watermarking and incorporating color patterns into barcode design. Almost from the very beginning the demise of barcodes has been predicted, from computer vision and automatic item recognition to RFID. Yet barcodes are as prevalent, growing in acceptance and finding new useful applications as ever.
What will be the next big barcode problem and how will it be solved? As always, there are differing points of view on what is a problem important enough to change the way barcodes are used. An example of this is a variation on the digital watermark concept, where barcodes are invisibly marked all over a consumer package. The problem? Speeding up checkout. But the cost of the solution may be an even bigger problem—and after spending the time it takes to browse the grocery store shelves for even a few items, it checkout really that much of a problem?
We would like to hear from you. What do you think the next big barcode problem is, and how do you think it will be solved? Right now we think the biggest problem is all the redundant handling of one’s purchases just to get them out of the store and into one’s home. Once again Kroger is pioneering a solution, with scanners on the cart. The customer scans and bags their purchases as they place them in the shopping cart. The transaction is completed en masse without removing the items again for bagging. Brilliant!
Other presenting problems might include using a 2D symbol to provide nutritional information or menu ideas to the consumer. Or more standardized and easy-to-access sell-by or expiration dates on products
Personally I enjoy the few minutes’ browsing experience in the grocery store. Eliminating the checkout altogether is a much better solution than making it a robotic speed contest for some unfortunate human. What do you think?