Where does the time go? The ubiquitous bar code quietly celebrated its 30th birthday this week.

Bar codes are used for inventory control, process control in the manufacturing sector, automated mail sorting and even traffic control in the rail and container transportation industries. But the average person is almost certainly more familiar with the bar codes used for product coding in retail stores.

Bar code boosters claim that their little striped darlings not only make is possible for stores to save on staff and other costs associated with manual labelling of goods, but also result in passed-on savings of as much as (US)$20 per week to shoppers.

Most recently, bar code scanning has made it possible for shoppers in some newer supermarkets to check out their own grocery orders without the assistance of a clerk and without waiting in a long line.

But, as useful as bar codes may be, they may nevertheless be headed for early retirement. Proponents of radio frequency ID tags (RFIDs) say their pet technology is even faster and easier to use. RFIDs will soon be cheap and easy enough to install in products and packaging that they will constitute a practical alternative to bar codes, allowing fully-automated check-out systems to scan a whole cart-load of groceries in a few seconds without even having to offload the goods onto a conveyor belt, much less scanning each item separately.

So, enjoy the barcode’s thirtieth birthday bash. It might be celebrating the big four-oh gumming its cake in a lonely corner at the old technologies’ home!

One Response to Happy birthday dear barcode…

  1. Evolving Squid
    Feb 26, 2009

    Here’s a question…

    Why is it that bar code scanners never became inexpensive. Even today, a typical barcode scanner is ~$200 or more. 30 years ago, it would have been a pretty high-tech device with the laser and all, but do you have any insight on why they remain expensive?

Leave a Reply