The End of Barcodes: Toshiba’s New Scanner

 In 101

March 20, 2012

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Toshiba has announced what could be the next and final generation of point-of-sale scanners that would mean the end of barcodes. Well, maybe.

Is Toshiba’s new scanner the end of barcodes?

The demonstration video released by Toshiba shows a conventional, counter-mounted scanner that seems to work just like—and just as fast as—conventional barcode scanners. The difference is that it uses image recognition technology to identify whatever the checker shows it.

The video shows three test apples, a Fuji, a Jonagold and a Mutsu. Normal humans couldn’t tell the difference if they held them in their hands and consulted an encyclopedia, but the Toshiba scanner did in a fraction of a second.

The technology involved is image pattern recognition—very much like the technology used in Intelligent Print Recognition. This advanced technology enables a computer to detect subtle attributes that uniquely distinguish between, for example, types of apples—or virtually anything else.

The end of barcodes is more than just the loss of item recognition

This is not as simple as it may sound. In addition to recognizing the primary object, the scanner must also learn to ignore everything that isn’t the primary object, when that object isn’t necessarily presented at a predictable distance or angle, or in a controlled lighting environment, or at a fixed rate of speed, or with a static background—you get the idea.

Furthermore, point-of-sale is a fast moving, often chaotic environment. Inaccuracies or interruptions in the process are not well tolerated—and that’s only when they are detected and corrected.

Will Toshiba’s new scanner actually initiate the end of barcodes? Well, maybe—but barcodes do a lot more than just identify the item. And barcodes are doing more and more as this technology also advances. Today’s barcodes not only identify the commodity, they can also encode an expiration date and a lot number. Can Toshiba’s new scanner do that? Not today, but maybe someday.

The end of barcodes will come eventually–we just don’t know when

Many of us can remember when grocery stores didn’t have scanners. Those days are definitely gone, but the ubiquity of the scanner doesn’t equate to permanence. Today we might not be able to conceive of the end of barcodes but it’s a safe guess it will happen eventually.

Has Toshiba shown us the future? Does this scanner spell the end of barcodes? Well, maybe a glimpse into the fact that there is a future.


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