Barcodes came into existence half a century ago to speed up the check out process, enhance customer experience and promote businesses. But the booming retail sector, ever increasing demand for faster check-out alternatives and increasing incidents of counterfeit items despite barcoding them, have forced technologists to strive for a fool-proof, reliable and still faster mode of dispatching goods at Point of Sale (POS) counters.
If the new technology unveiled by Beaverton-based Digimarc Corp goes viral, the black and white stripes will become extinct in another few years, to be replaced by a new concept called “invisible barcodes”, which are not only reliable and reduce the chances of malpractices, but also help faster checkouts.
The new technology will avoid POS counter staff to look for barcodes printed on items which consumes a second or two to locate the barcodes before running them across the scanner.
The Digimarc barcodes, not visible to human eyes, can be embedded with details of retail items and can be scanned by special barcode scanners.
To try this new path-breaking technology, grocery chain New Seasons in upscale Portland has signed up with Digimarc to use their technology at their retail outlets. Accordingly, all the packed items on shelves were printed with barcodes that were invisible to human eyes. But, scanners equipped with new technology were able to scan them right away.
Digimarc has been working on digital watermarking for close to two decades with less success. "We have been slow but persistent," says chief executive Bruce Davis.
In addition to easy checkouts, Digimarc feels that the new technology will help prevent frauds by stopping retailers from pasting one barcode over another and enable more attractive packaging.
Retailers are steadily upgrading their barcode scanners at check-outs from laser-based to optical imaging technology that works like a digital camera, and also compatible to Digimarc's new technology.
If the visible barcodes got replaced in another few years, New Seasons, a relatively small grocery chain, will make history for being the first to adopt the invisible barcode technology in the world.
So, are we going to witness a slow and steady extinct of barcodes which can be seen on everything from soap packs to water bottles?
Not for a decade or more, feels Bhaskar Venkatraman, founder and director of JusTransact.com, an e-commerce marketplace selling exclusive POS products like barcode scanners, printers and POS peripherals.
"But, over a period of time, barcodes may become obsolete. As far as India is concerned, if the new technology succeeds, we can expect the change in another ten years. Till then, 1D/2D barcodes will rule the retail points of sale," he concludes.