Bokode: The New Barcode
A new replacement for the old black and white striped barcode has been discovered by US researchers. Bokodes, as they are now known, can hold thousands of times more information in them than a traditional barcode label, and are easily read by even just cell phone cameras and of course handheld other barcode scanners.
The “Bokodes” currently consist of an 1-inch or less LED, covered with a tiny mask and a lens. Information is encoded in the light shining through the mask, which varies in brightness depending on which angle it is seen from.
The work will be shown off at Siggraph, a barcode conference in New Orleans next week.
“We think that our technology will create a new way of tagging,” Dr Ankit Mohan, one of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers behind the work, told BBC News. Lab Camera Culture group.
The researchers believe the system has many advantages over conventional barcode labels. For example, they say, the tags are smaller, can be read from different angles and can be interrogated from far away by a standard mobile phone camera, or any barcode scanner.
“For traditional barcodes you need to be a foot away from it at most,” said Dr Mohan. The team has shown its barcode labels can be read from a distance of up to 12 ft, although they should theoretically work up to 60 ft.
“One way of thinking about it is a long-distance barcode.” Initially, said Dr Mohan, the Bokodes may be used in factories or industrial settings to keep track of objects.
However, the team also thinks they could be used in consumer applications, such as supermarkets, where products could be interrogated with a shopper’s mobile phone. For example, they could be used to encode nutritional information or pricing offers.
A similar system could be used in a library, said Dr Mohan.
“Let’s say you’re standing in a library with 20 shelves in front of you and thousands of books.”
“You could take a picture and you’d immediately know where the book you’re looking for is.”
And the team also believes the tags could find their way into places not normally associated with traditional barcodes.
For example, the system’s ability to read angular information could allow its use in motion-capture systems used to create videogames or films.
Dr Mohan said they could also be used to augment the information incorporated into Google Streetview, a service which allows users to browse a selection of pictures taken along city streets.
At the moment, the images for Streetview – accessible through Google Maps – are collected by trucks and cars fitted with several cameras.
“Shop and restaurant owners can put these Bokodes outside their stores and as the Google truck is driving down the street it will capture the information in that.”
For example, a restaurant could put menu information inside the tag.
When the data is uploaded to Google Maps, it would automatically be displayed next to the image of the restaurant, said Dr Mohan.
Currently, the tags are fairly expensive to produce – around $5 each. This is, in part, because the early prototypes require a lens and a powered LED.
However, the researchers believe the technology could be refined so that tags were reflective and require no power.
“We already have prototypes which are completely passive,” said Dr Mohan.
In this form, they could cost around 5 cents each, he added.
It is not the first time that companies or researchers have suggested replacements for, or enhancements to, barcode labels.
For example, in 2007 Microsoft launched its High Capacity Color Barcode, a series of colored geometric patterns in an attempt to create a new type of barcode.
And then there’s Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology – essentially tiny electronic tags that broadcast encoded information – were also touted as a barcode replacement.
Although they are now used in many applications, such as library books, passports and travel passes, you can even pay highway tolls using RFID tags, but they have yet to displace the familiar black and white stripes of the barcode.