It’s interesting to think how there are so many things we take for granted nowadays, specifically the technological advancements, just because we use them on a daily basis.
Let’s take the example of barcodes and barcode scanners; though they’re part of supermarkets and all sorts of stores, companies dealing with manufacturing, documents and bills, there was a point in time when they were considered as innovation of the future.
While there’s a wide range of handheld barcode scanner kits to choose from today, both meant for the short and long bar codes, created to be user-friendly with a software allowing for easy start-up procedure, it wasn’t until 1949 that a patent was filed for.
This design by Woodland and Silver was based on some elements from the Morse code, specifically the dots and dashes by extending the lines, and the technology of movie soundtracks (e.g. Lee de Forest movie sound system device, the de Forest tube) to get to linear and bull’s eye barcode systems.
However, it was only three years later that the first barcode reader was made, consisting of concentric circles and a bull’s eye so it would be readable no matter the direction.
For us it might be difficult to imagine how purchasing something was done prior to this, checking out items as well as counting and organising the inventory in stores, supermarkets and the retail industry in general, but it’s safe to assume it was a daunting task.
Not only did it take long to manually do the checking out and counting, it often led to mistakes so it was a waste of time and sometimes money too, meaning this technology doesn’t only simplify life, it also make it better. If not for barcodes and handheld barcode scanner, we’d spend so much more of our lives on shopping, paying bills or even getting on a plane.
Though they’re universal now, it wasn’t until 1966 that they got to be used, starting with the National Association of Food Chains followed by the Association of American Railroads the next year.
In 1973 it was recommended that all products be used with barcode technology in the US as requested by the Uniform Grocery Product Code, and the following year is known for the pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum being the first product to be sold with the help of a barcode scanner in a supermarket in Troy, Ohio.
Fast forward to today, barcode scanners are much faster than their mid-20th century counterparts, reading the barcode lines within seconds and sending the information on the computer or checkout terminal right away. Likewise, there’s the chance to use digital scanning based on QR (Quick Response) codes with smartphones.
As we can see, the possibilities are endless for this type of technology and we’re yet to see further developments.