The familiar set of parallel black lines on labels and tags of products and services are barcodes, which provide a unique identity to everything. They were created half a century ago, and have become omnipresent today, since they are seen on retail products, vehicles and post packages, books and inventory items, and so on. Their usage is encouraged to enhance efficiency levels and as a cost and time saving measure.
Advances in technology and the use of integrated circuits has led to upgrading of barcodes from linear to two dimensional barcodes. The future will see further advancement and innovations; increased usage to encompass more fields and barcodes will chart unfamiliar territories. But as with all other scientific discoveries and inventions the old gives way to the new, and it is possible that new technologies may make barcodes obsolete. For instance the creation of Radio Frequency identification or RFID may one day make barcodes redundant. But this may never happen due to the gap in the expense involved in each. They may continue to be used side by side with barcodes being confined to simpler operations and RFID being used for more technical use.
The existing system will continue in the future with linear barcodes being used for simple applications and two-dimensional one for complex usage. At the outset the future seems to point towards the following:
• Enhanced usage of barcode technology to envelop areas hitherto ignored, and also to extend barcodes into more detailed functions of barcode uses in areas like supply chain management
• Greater information storage will become possible with the use of two dimensional barcodes that have more fields to store information along the length and width of the barcode
• Use of Barcodes will see improved software making the use of barcodes easier with the incorporation of additional fields
• Barcodes will have more symbologies than before to customize their application
The future of barcodes can be based on their present acceptability. There is no declining trend in the application of linear barcodes and that goes to prove that they will continue to be used where limited amounts of information has to be stored. The 2D barcodes are gaining in popularity where linear barcodes are found inadequate. With newer symbologies for 2D barcodes evolving, the sky is the limit for the potential of these barcodes.
A new addition to the barcode segment is the colored three-dimensional barcodes.
Commonly referred to as the colored barcode or the 3D barcode, they have the capacity to store a phenomenal amount of information. Their present application is limited since they are too new and have very basic symbologies and software available. The most symbology available for these colored barcodes is the HCCB or high capacity color barcode from Microsoft. Other symbologies include the colorized CL barcodes which can store 73 KB of data in a small square barcode. The symbology that is amongst the best is the new PM code. PM implies Paper Memory and has a memory range of 0.6-1.8 MB. Barcode storage with the IP-based PM code is the ultimate with its use of 256 colors and a memory range up to 1236 GB.
The QR or the Quick Response code is also being touted as the barcode of the future. The QR code is a square shaped matrix that has the capacity of storing more information than linear barcodes. They are being used extensively in countries like Japan, and most mobile phones there, can read this code with their camera. They are ideally suited for tracking applications, storing addresses, and users can even generate their own QR codes.
Thus, the barcode can yet not be written off despite more advanced RFID and other methods of identification coming up. Their cost efficiency, time saving and ease of use makes them highly acceptable for myriad applications and will continue to do so.