The barcode turns 50

The barcode has turned 50 and its champion, GS1, is about to revolutionise retailing all over again with the next generation of barcodes.

Next-generation barcodes, such as two-dimensional QR codes, promise to once again change our lives in new ways. These new codes can capture unprecedented amounts of trusted data for businesses, regulators, consumers, and patients alike, offering much more than just links to web pages. They can tell a product’s ‘story’, where it comes from, if it contains allergens, is organic, how it can be recycled—and what its environmental footprint is. This new level of transparency will ultimately help people make smart decisions about what they buy and use.

GS1 is building a coalition of industry leaders to deploy next generation barcodes around the world. At the end of 2020, the company launched a global initiative to transition from traditional to next generation barcodes together with key players in the retail sector.

There are over 20 countries and districts including Australia, China, US and Brazil that have already started successful pilots. In 2021, GS1 China started to promote 2D barcodes and 20 major key branches—including the Zhejiang Branch of GS1 China (Zhejiang Institute of Standardisation)—have joined the project. In Australia, a 2D program designed to create awareness, build capability and support adoption is currently in full execution.

GS1 Australia Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Maria Palazzolo said: The GS1 barcode is globally-recognised and ready for new business. We have experienced 50 years of the barcode transforming how we buy and sell things. As consumers rightly demand more and better product information, and the planet requires us all to maximise the power of data for smart and efficient decisions, we are now launching a global transition from traditional barcodes to next generation barcodes and we welcome everybody on board for this journey.” 

The new standard based on QR will be introduced around 2027.

Who invented the barcode?

The BBC has called the barcode “one of the 50 things that made the modern economy”. Since its creation, this symbol is now on over one billion products, and the ‘beep’ it generates at checkouts is instantly recognisable around the world.

Norman Joseph Woodland came up with the idea for the barcode on a Florida beach in 1948. He was inspired to create the barcode from his Boy Scout training, where he learnt Morse Code. He drew dots and dashes on the beach and pulled them downward with his fingers to produce thin lines from the dots and thicker lines from the dashes.

An IBM colleague, George J Laurer, turned Woodland’s original sandy rectangle into tits current format and in 1973 that IBM’s Universal Product Code (UPC) was selected by industry leaders to be adopted as standard.

Just over a year later, on June 26, 1974, a packet of Wrigley’s chewing gum sold at a supermarket in Ohio became the first product scanned at a checkout using Laurer’s design. 

Its introduction lead to check-out queues speeding up by 40%.

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Categories: Business