The Ultimate Symbology

 In 101

 In our recent article Why Are There Different Kinds of Barcodes?  we posed the question (rather rhetorically) “…isn’t there one symbology that could do it all?” As a matter of fact  there is a new symbology that is moving in that direction. It is called Ultracode. A draft of the international technical specification is completed, the symbol generator software is  available for Windows 7 and 8 along with instructions and release notes, symbol test files are available, and a public review period ended late last year.


Sidebar: The usual path for the adoption of a barcode symbology into an open loop system starts with research and standardization by the Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility (AIM), a trade association in the AIDC industry. This is how UPC, Code 39, Code 128 , PDG417, Data Matrix and QR Code became part of the library of symbologies used today.


Not the Ultimate Symbology–the Next Symbology

Let’s be clear: Ultracode is not the …”one symbology that could do it all.” But Ultracode is proposed to be the symbology that will do what is next. Consider this:

  • The largest selling barcode scanner on the planet is not a scanner—it is the smartphone
    • Smartphone camera resolution is equal to and often better than many industrial 2D scanners
  • Many barcode applications are moving to 2D symbologies
    • 2D symbols are more size efficient and have error correction not available in 1D barcodes
  • Smartphones are increasingly used as data carriers
    • Smartphones are replacing printed airline boarding passes, event tickets and access control

But printed 2D symbols are predominately designed for black on white printing, and do not utilize the full capacity of smartphone color displays and color cameras (all smartphone cameras since 2010 are color).  The confluence of these factors has created an opportunity to take advantage of color as a new means of encoding information, which gives Ultracode a significant technical advantage over Data Matrix and QR Code: Using color, Ultracode can encode more data in a smaller space and it can provide greater error correction capability.

Ultracode is similar to QR Code in that it uses the same Reed-Solomon error correction methods and user-selectable levels of error correction. Like QR Code, Ultracode also has an interior finder pattern and a required perimeter quiet zone. But Ultracode is much more efficient than QR Code at encoding a URL, because it can encode common URL phrases such as http://www/  with a single codeword.  For a typical URL symbol a similar error correction level and using the same module size, Ultracode uses 46% of the area of a QR Code.

The QR Code and Ultracode below both encode




What’s Next

The AIM Board is scheduled to vote on publication of the specification for Ultracode at its Annual Meeting at the AIM Summit in San Diego in April, 2015

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