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Also known as Universal Product Codes, barcodes are a method of representing data in a visual, machine-readable form.

Developed by Bernard Silver and Norman Woodland in the late 1940s, a patent on the first type of barcode was offered to IBM, which was not particularly interested, then sold to Philco in 1962, and to RCA sometime later, but not put into use until the mid-1970s. This system was inspired by Morse Code, extending it to thin and thick bars.

In the meantime, during the late 1950s, David Collins developed a system for automatically identifying railroad cars that became known as KarTrak that used blue and red reflective stripes attached to the side of cars, which was first used on the Boston and Maine Railroad, then adopted as a standard by the Association of American Railroads, by then known as Automatic Car Identification. Finding that dirt would adversely affect accurate identification, the system was abandoned in the late 1970s, although they adopted a similar system in the mid-1980s, based on radio tags.

However, the system was picked up by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority for scanning cars that had purchased a monthly pass, and the US Postal Service began using a similar system to track trucks entering and leaving their facilities.

The first product manufacturer to use the barcode system was Kal Kan, now known as Whiskas, a brand of cat food.

In 1967, Collins founded Computer Identics Corporation to market a black-and-white version of the barcode system to other industries, using helium-neon lasers and incorporating a mirror. A scanning system was installed at a General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan, where it was used to identify a dozen types of transmissions moving on an overhead conveyor from production to shipping. Another system was installed at a General Trading Company distribution center in New Jersey, where it was used to direct shipments to the proper loading bay.

In 1966, the National Association of Food Chains (NAFC) began a study on the idea of automated checkout systems. RCA, which owned the original Woodland patent, participated, later beginning a project to develop a system based on the bullseye code, and Kroger agreed to test it in 1972.

Today, barcodes are widely used around the world, and found on most products. On books, magazines, journals, and other published material, barcodes encode the ISBNs.

Early barcodes were one-dimensional, or linear, and scanned by optical scanners known as barcode readers. While this system is still in place, there are also two-dimensional variants that use rectangles, dots, hexagons, and other geometric patterns. Although they don't use bars as such, because they resulted as an enhancement of barcode technology, they are generally known as barcodes.

A barcode reader, or barcode scanner, is an optical scanner that is used to read barcodes, decoding the data contained within them, and sending the data to a computer. Similar to a flatbed scanner, barcode readers consist of a light source, lens, and a light sensor translating optical impulses into electrical signals. Most barcode readers include decoder circuitry that analyzes the barcode's image data and sends the decoded content to the scanner's output port.

There are several types of barcode scanners, including pen-type readers, laser scanners, LED scanners, and camera-based readers, the latter of which may include cellphones and smartphones.

A barcode system is a network that includes both hardware and software, most commonly mobile computers, printers, handheld scanners, and supporting software. Barcode systems are used to automate data collection. In 1970, the Universal Grocery Products Identification Code (UGPIC) was prepared by Logicon, and the first company to produce barcode equipment for retail use was Monarch Marking, also in 1970. That same year, Plessey Telecommunications, a British company, adopted it for industrial use. The UGPIC later became the Universal Product Code (UPC), which is still the standard in the United States. The first UPC scanner was installed at Marsh's Supermarket in Troy, Ohio, and the first product to include the UPC code was Wrigley's Gum.

Topics relating to barcodes, barcode software, barcode hardware, and barcode systems are the focus of this category.



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