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Universal Product Code (UPC) or Barcode


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Barcode QR Code

Mains level : Applications of Barcode

Yesterday, engineer-scientist George Laurer died in North Carolina, USA, at age 94. He was the co-developer of the Universal Product Code (UPC), or barcode, in 1973.

What is Barcode?

  • A barcode is a method of representing data in a visual, machine-readable form. Initially, barcodes represented data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines.
  • These barcodes, now commonly referred to as linear or one-dimensional, can be scanned by special optical scanners, called barcode readers.

How the idea took shape

  • Barcode was the brainchild of Woodland; Laurer is credited with bringing the idea to fruition.
  • It was in the 1950s that Woodland thought about developing a system based on barcode symbology, called Bulls-Eye Barcode, which would describe a product and its price in a code readable by a machine.
  • Initially, Woodland took inspiration from the Morse Code, the well-known character-encoding scheme in telecommunications defined by dots and dashes.
  • Woodland’s idea seemed workable but he was unable to develop the system as the cost of laser and computing technology was extremely high in the 1950s.
  • Two decades later, in the 1970s, Laurer, who was then working for IBM, put Woodland’s idea to work, armed with less expensive laser and computing technology.
  • Laurer found that a rectangle system, which we see on most barcodes today, would be more workable than Bulls-Eye, which used a series of concentric circles that looked complicated.

Transformation brought about

  • Today, shoppers simply pick up a product at a store or a mall, and pay the bill as determined by a scan of the barcode.
  • Barcodes can be found in hundreds and thousands of products for identification and scanning, and allow retailers to identify prices instantly.
  • They also allow for easy check-outs and fewer pricing errors, and let retailers keep better account of their inventory.
  • The barcode also changed the balance of power in the retail industry.


QR Code

  • The Quick Response (QR) code is the trademark for a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional barcode) first designed in 1994 for the automotive industry in Japan.
  • In practice, QR codes often contain data for a locator, identifier, or tracker that points to a website or application.
  • A QR code uses four standardized encoding modes (numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, and kanji) to store data efficiently; extensions may also be used.
  • The main advantage of a QR code is its versatility. QR codes can be used for anything and everything.
  • It became due to its fast readability and greater storage capacity compared to standard UPC barcodes.
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