|The Modern Self-Serve Checkout Counter Could Already Be an Antiquity|
|Security - General|
|Written by Chris Smith|
|Thursday, 27 March 2008 19:00|
Bytware's use of QR Codes on its promotional literature at COMMON challenges the widespread U.S. use of a more primitive barcode technology.
Have you ever stood in front of the self-serve checkout scanner in the supermarket trying to get your cookies to be read by the barcode scanner? Personally, I admire the brave souls who take anything more than a small number of items to the self-serve counter. Sometimes you can scan in everything you are buying, and sometimes you can't. Of course, that's why there is an attendant standing in the middle between the rows of scanners: to help. At least, I hope that's why she's there and not because store management thinks people will cheat and skip scanning an item or two.
I remember when barcode technology was introduced into supermarkets. There was a big hue and cry by the labor unions as well as consumer groups who argued that it would never work and consumers didn't want it. Or, if it did work, it would put checkers out of a job. I think most people today accept barcodes on their consumer goods and see it as a way to save time waiting in line. But there is something frustrating about trying to get the scanners to read the barcodes properly. It makes you realize that there is a skill level after all to what the checker does in moving as many goods past the scanner as she does.
Attendees at next week's COMMON will be introduced to a new kind of barcode that is popular in Japan. Systems management and security software solution provider Bytware is launching a new promotional campaign at COMMON called moshimoshi. The eight-week campaign delivered online and through YouTube is intended to familiarize users with various security and systems management issues that Bytware solutions address. As part of the promotion, Bytware is distributing plastic badge pouches containing Bytware literature at the show. Printed on the literature will be a type of barcode called QR Code, a matrix or two-dimensional barcode developed by Japanese corporation Denso-Wave. The letters QR are derived from "quick response" since Denso-Wave intended the code to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed.
QR codes are common in Japan, where Bytware's marketing director, Chris Jones, lives. Today they serve as the most popular type of two-dimensional codes.
Considering how much information a regular barcode contains, the speed with which it can be read, the accuracy, and altogether superior functionality it serves, it's no wonder that barcodes have become widely popular. Along with their widespread use, however, came an increasing need for barcodes to store more and more information, as well as different character types, in a smaller amount of space. These requirements resulted in a variety of efforts to increase the amount of information that barcodes could store.
People tried to increase the number of barcode digits, and they also stacked multiple layers within the barcode. These improvements tended to create problems of their own in that barcodes kept getting larger, which not only complicated reading operations, but also even increased printing costs. You may have seen examples of the multiple barcode layouts on packages you have received: they usually have three columns of bar-coded information. You'll find stacked barcodes, which look like one barcode with two different types of information in it, and then there are the matrix type codes like QR Code. These are known as density matrix codes.
QR code is a kind of two-dimensional (or 2D) symbology that was actually developed back in 1994 and has gradually been gaining in popularity. In Japan, it's the most popular type of code today. Though it's less common in the United States, the Japanese are now using QR Codes in connection with their Web-enabled cell phones. You take a cell phone that includes a camera and the appropriate program to read QR Code and you can pick up the information contained in the QR Code with a scan of the phone.
The amount of information that a QR Code can contain is remarkable. A typical QR Code can hold more than 7,000 numeric characters, more than 4,000 alphanumeric characters, nearly 3,000 binary characters, and, for those in the Far East, nearly 2,000 Kanji characters.
While QR Code has the highest capacity of the 2D codes out there today, it is not the only one in use. Symbol Technologies in the U.S. developed a code called PDF417 that is a type of stacked barcode that will handle more than 2,700 numeric characters. RVSI Acuity CiMatrix developed one called DataMatrix that can hold more than 3,000 numeric characters and more than 2,300 alphanumeric characters. Our familiar UPS delivery service has one it calls Maxi Code, which is a matrix type code, but it can hold only 138 numeric characters and 93 alphanumeric characters, which seems to get the job done.
The newest form of QR Code is called Micro QR Code, and it is similar to QR Code but used for smaller applications. There are different forms of Micro QR Code. There is also something called Design QR Code, which incorporates eye-catching images, such as logos and photos, right into the QR Code without losing any information.
If U.S. producers were to switch to the QR Code, it undoubtedly would save labor and time for both store checkout clerks and consumers trying to use self-serve scanning machines. The reason is that QR Code is omni-directional and can be read from any direction. When the checkout clerk has to rescan your package of cookies, it's usually because the barcode was moved across the scanner at the wrong angle. QR Code scanners will read QR Codes from any direction, so that's much less likely to happen. The QR Code is capable being read at high speed from wherever. The way it does this is through position detection patterns located at three corners of the symbol. The special patterns guarantee stable high-speed reading.
This characteristic makes it possible, for instance, to put a QR Code on a billboard and permit the driver in a passing car (or, hopefully, the passenger) to read the code by scanning it in with her cell phone to obtain the information without error. Newer cell phones are taking that information and putting it into the device's browser and accessing a Web site! So the user immediately gets taken directly to the product or company's home page on the Web. Why advertisers in the United States haven't figured this out yet is a true mystery.
When I first heard about this I thought of an amusing way for people to meet each other in, say, a noisy nightclub. The girl has her barcode or QR Code tattooed on her arm and the pursuing male scans it in with his cell phone to obtain her vital statistics such as age, personal music choices, hobbies, educational accomplishment, marital status, and availability.
Another feature of QR Codes is that they can take a certain amount of abuse and still be readable. The QR code has error-correction capabilities. Data can be restored in part even if the symbol has become dirty or damaged. Using Reed-Solomon error correction, it can recover from a hit that removes up to 30 percent of the code words.
As to standardization, QR Code is open in the sense that the code specification is disclosed, and the patent rights owned by Denso-Wave are not exercised. In 1999, QR Code was sanctioned by the Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) board, and in 2000 QR Code was approved as ISO international standard (ISO/IEC18004). In 2004, Micro QR Code was approved by the JIS.
There are a number of different types of reader codes from barcodes to dot codes to ShotCodes to Semacodes. The QR Code is one of the more successful technically. That Bytware has chosen to place QR Codes on its literature, which, by the way, contains the biographies of its promotional game characters, is fun way to introduce a superior technology to an audience who can incorporate it into U.S. business processes.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2008 07:10|