Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Barcoding On The Way Out – Don’t bet on it!

by Eric Carlson, CPP - Chainalytics
There has been some buzz in the press lately about a new visual type of tag to replace barcodes called Bokodes. These tags have traditionally used a mask and lens over an LED. The advantage is that the bokode can contain about 1000x more information than a barcode and supposedly the tags can be read from a longer distance – typical reported distance is 12 feet (It seems to me that many barcodes can be read from a long distance as well). Because these tags have been projected to be expensive (dollars/tag) and need to be powered with an LED, the market has shown little interest since their development in 1994. The reason for the current resurgence in interest is that there have been some developments that will take advantage of reflected light or camera flash to provide sufficient illumination of the screen. At the SIGGRAPH Conference & Exhibit there will apparently be a demonstration of some new bokode technology – although it is not clear that this demonstration will be utilizing the reflected light technology.

Despite all the renewed interest in the bokode, I am quite certain that the ubiquitous and nearly cost free barcode will be around for a very long time. Many of the current barcode applications do not need 1000x more information. This reminds me of the RFID buzz that was around some years ago. RFID was going to change the entire supply chain infrastructure, tag prices were going to fall to pennies a tag, the technology was going to overcome signal scattering by metal & liquids AND they were going to make the barcode obsolete. Well, lots of the predictions came true, prices of the tags have fallen steadily, some early adopters helped (Walmart, DOD, and now the pharmaceutical industry). Some of the physics has been worked out; tag architecture and ink technology for printing the antennas has improved steadily and yet, the barcode is still alive and well!

I expect the barcode will remain as the universal solution for most supply chain applications and in most of the other applications that have adopted its simplicity. So even if the bokode overcomes its cost and design hurdles, expect to continue to see the barcode in as many, and likely more applications than today.

It has been reported that these codes could be read by cell phone cameras … how about that for another cool app for your snazzy new iPhone!

For a great introduction to the technology, check out the video below.

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