Smart devices and connectivity are prime examples. We rarely leave home without our smartphones. We use them to make payments and purchases, read news, work on emails, communicate with friends, manage smart home systems, monitor health and fitness and for a host of other activities.
As modern consumers, we have come to expect to be connected wherever we are, so that we can choose exactly when we want to do all these things.
Another invention that has completely changed life can be found on most products today. The barcode is a discreet label which facilitates shopping and enhances the global trade of goods. Without it, many of the online systems and services we use for purchasing products or finding information would not exist.
Joseph Woodland was an American inventor and mechanical engineer. He came up with an efficient way of capturing product information at the checkout, with the goal of speeding up the checkout process at the point of purchase. In 1948, the idea came to him unexpectedly from a drawing he did in the sand, adapting the dots of Morse Code into lines. So the modern barcode was born on a beach in Florida.
Woodland and his associate Bernard Silver received a US patent for "Classifying Apparatus and Method" in 1952, but at the time, the technology was too expensive to develop the idea for supermarkets.
Over the years, the striped-scan system would be refined. It 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 the universal product code (UPC) barcode was scanned at a till in Ohio.
In addition to automating supermarket checkout systems, other tasks performed by various types of barcodes 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.
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 barcode symbologies and radio frequency identification (RFID).
The barcode is a machine-readable way of representing data. The traditional one-dimensional (1D) version is a rectangle containing straight lines in varying widths and spacings. Barcodes contain information about the item to which they are attached, such as the manufacturer, owner, identification number and price. These criteria can change depending on the item and reason for use.
When scanned, barcodes link product information to the stock database held by the retailer or manufacturer. Over time, increasingly sophisticated software systems carry out other tasks (tracking and automatically reordering stocks when required) by using this information.
… to two
The two-dimensional (2D) matrix barcode is designed using geometric shapes (dots, hexagons and rectangles). Created in 1994 in Japan for the automotive manufacturing industry to enable components to be scanned at high speed, the quick response (QR) code has become very popular and adopted by many industries.
Radio frequency identification tags
RFID tags are also used to identify and track the items they are attached to by using radio frequencies. Line of sight is not a pre-requisite, unlike standard barcodes which require optical scanners to be held directly in front of the label.
In our global world, there is a growing need for tracking and tracing solutions. Barcodes continue to evolve because they are versatile. As well as storing useful product information, they can be attached to almost any surface, are inexpensive to design and print, easy to use, reduce human error risk due to very low scanning error rates, and can be adapted to the scale of business as it grows. Some of the many uses include:
The internet of things (IoT) and related technologies are increasingly important in our world and are changing how we live. More industries are adopting AIDC technologies such as barcodes, QR codes and RFID to improve their operations. RFID is one of the primary sources of IoT data, which means ensuring its security is of the utmost importance. JTC 1/SC 31 follows these trends so that it can address market needs in a timely manner through its standardization activities.