Barcodes codes were the brainchild of the American inventor and mechanical engineer, Joseph Woodland, who was looking for a more efficient way of capturing product information at supermarket checkouts. Seventy years later, people are still finding new and unexpected uses for barcodes.
Legend has it that the idea of adapting the dots of Morse Code into lines came to Woodland while he was doodling on the sand of a Florida beach, in 1948. The striped-scan system was first used with a trackside scanner in the 1950s to identify the ownership and number of railway cars, but only reached the retail sector in June 1974, when a packet of chewing gum bearing a ‘Universal Product Code’ (UPC) code was scanned at a till in Ohio.
In addition to automating supermarket checkout systems, other tasks performed by barcodes codes have become known generically as automatic identification and data capture (AIDC). Serving numerous applications—product/item identification, point-of-purchase/use, track and trace and product distribution for healthcare, manufacturing, retail sales, service industry, supply chain and transportation—AIDC technologies are vital for global trade and among the basic enablers of e-commerce.
By providing timely and cost-effective data, they improve processes that cover product life cycles, such as ordering, back office operations, manufacture, distribution, sale, use, repair, warranty and return of products.
There is no limit to how barcodes codes can be used.
Homeless people in the British city of Oxford are wearing QR codes—a type of matrix barcode—around their necks as part of a new social innovation project. It allows people with no cash in their pockets to give money with their smartphones, while also providing background details, such as how the person became homeless or what jobs they used to do.
Donors make an online payment into an account managed by a caseworker. It ensures that donations are only spent on approved targets, such as saving for a rental deposit.
Established in 1996, the work of IEC and ISO Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1 Subcommittee (SC) 31, includes data formats, syntax, structures and encoding, as well as technologies for the process of AIDC and associated devices used in industry and mobile applications. The SC publishes International Standards for QR code symbologies and radio frequency identification (RFID).