Milestone-Nomination:Birthplace of the Bar Code, 1948
Docket Number: 2009-06
In the space below the line, please enter your proposed citation in English, with title and text. Text absolutely limited to 70 words; 60 is preferable for aesthetic reasons. NOTE: The IEEE History Committee shall have final determination on the wording of the citation
In an attempt to automate the reading of product information in a local food chain, Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland conceived a solution in 1948 at the Drexel Institute of Technology which later became the ubiquitous Barcode. Patented in 1952, the Barcode was an invention way ahead of its time and has become the quintessential technology for product identification and inventory control that fuels a multi-billion dollar industry.
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In the space below the line, please describe the historic significance of this work: its importance to the evolution of electrical and computer engineering and science and its importance to regional/national/international development.
At the period of its conception, there were no simple mechanisms that could code data in a way that would make it machine readable, and no technology that could scan images on-the-fly and extract useful information from them. Moreover computing infrastructure that can support the data storage and processing requirements associated with mass scale inventory tracking and control was non-existent. The barcode technology served to invent some of these components including optical readers, and in the process of adapting other components towards its own cause, helped improve these supporting technologies. Consequently, simultaneous efforts in the many areas of electrical and computer engineering such as machine vision, signal processing, data representation, coding, error correction, data storage, data security and database design and management were required to implement the barcode technology. This eventually contributed immensely towards the development in those areas.
Barcodes revolutionized the way logistics of goods and inventories were organized and managed, and provided a robust and economically feasible solution for inventory management and tracking across regional, national and international borders. It has become an ubiquitous technology to find applications in every imaginable sector ranging from aerospace, to healthcare to retail to service industries. Due to its applicability in any application that requires a multitude of objects to be tracked and managed, the barcode technology has been universally adopted across the entire globe.
What features or characteristics set this work apart from similar achievements?
Prior to the invention of barcodes, automated registration of components and goods was largely unavailable. Designs proposed earlier for such purposes including punch cards were too expensive and cumbersome. Tedious manual processes based on tags that were human read and recorded were the most common alternative before the barcode came into common use. The extremely low costs associated with the printing of barcodes (in the order of 0.5 cents) and its conformability were also features that set the barcode so apart from competing technologies that led to its success and universal adoption.
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