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Researchers Debut Barcode Replacement 185

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i'm-still-not-used-to-the-square-ones dept.
eldavojohn writes "MIT Researchers have unveiled a new potential replacement for barcodes. Using an LED covered with a tiny mask and a lens, these new bokodes can be processed by a standard mobile phone camera and can encode thousands of times more information than your average barcode. New applications are being dreamed up by the team. Dr. Mohan of MIT said, '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.'"
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Researchers Debut Barcode Replacement

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  • CueCat (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shbazjinkens (776313) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:42AM (#28838097)
    Sounds about as useful as a CueCat.

    Nobody is in a library with 20 shelves in front of them. Computers do it better.
  • but it's powered (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yincrash (854885) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:43AM (#28838099)
    the cost per bokcode is like 20x-200x that of printing a barcode.
    • by aicrules (819392)
      For now...though unless they come up with a way to power them (solar cell?) it won't come down enough...
      • Solar cells, reflectors, etc. all still cost significantly more than a piece of paper and a fraction of a penny's worth of ink.

    • The team developing these believe that they can eventually be made cheaply, utilising only a reflector instead of a complicated LED + battery setup.
      • by duranaki (776224)
        Sure.. but they are only getting the attention for their LED based version... I doubt the reflector version would actually meet the same criteria that makes this interesting to people (like being able to capture them with a cell phone, capture at long range, capture from a wide variety of angles). But I don't know because they are only showing off the LED one, so let people bitch about the LED one. We'll bitch about the reflective one when they tell us something about it.
    • the cost per bokcode is like 20x-200x that of printing a barcode.

      Currently, the tags are expensive to produce - around $5 (£3) 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.

      • by Arlet (29997)

        "We already have prototypes which are completely passive," said Dr Mohan.
        In this form, they could cost around 5 cents each, he added

        If you need something printed, which most products do, it doesn't cost anything to add a barcode.

  • The concept drawings of the kids in classroom and crowd gaming looks like all the kids are tokin' it up... Sounds like a great new technology whether it's a barcode replacement or something much more.
  • by Kral_Blbec (1201285) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:43AM (#28838125)
    "Currently, the tags are expensive to produce - around $5 (£3) 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. "

    If thats true, maybe they do have potential.
    • by aicrules (819392) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:47AM (#28838205)
      Potential, but even at 5 cents each, they won't replace the bar code, nor should it really. It may replace the bar code for specific applications, but you're not going to convince frito lay that they need to plop one of these suckers on the millions bags of chips they crank out each day.
      • by AndrewNeo (979708)

        I think they mean this as more a QRcode type replacement, where people use them for scanning stuff on business cards or billboards, etc., not UPCs on packaging.

      • by Minwee (522556)

        Notice that the summary suggested "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." It didn't say "You could take a picture and you'd immediately know where you left your Fritos."

        • by aicrules (819392)
          Fine, library being on the budget that a library is won't be convinced that the minor convenience of locating a book's physical location (unless the LED is blocked, dead, etc) is worth the expense. Granted libraries already do add their own tracking system to their books. Perhaps if it could be bundled into the security device then libraries that use those could potentially do this. Of course, if it can get down to 1 cent per device in mass production, that would take this issue off the table.
  • by Foofoobar (318279) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:43AM (#28838129)
    Oh yay. Lets fill our landfills with more useless crap. Why the hell do I need LED's and battery is PACKAGING? They go into the trash! We as a society are trying to move towards LESS PACKAGING and recyclable packaging not MORE packaging. Is the consumer expected to rip out that LED and battery and recycle that separate for ever single ceral box they purchase?
    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Mod parent up. What the hell are they thinking??

      This will likely have a negative effect on sales when people boycott any product with one in it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AP31R0N (723649)

      Did you catch the part about the passive tags that don't needs LEDs or batteries?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      Did you consider the environmental impact of better inventory control? Probably not, because it is one of those things that you see in your world normally. The better we can handle inventory, we are allowed to have smaller warehouses, more optimal shipping methods, better use so it can be sold before it expires or become obsolete then tossed anyways. Environmentalism is weighing the cost and benefits. Not going crazy and saying no to progress.

      • by Foofoobar (318279)

        Did you consider the environmental impact of better inventory control?

        Yep. And what happens when a box of Cheerios goes bad? The Cheerios break down and the paper box break down. Darn. But what about all those chips and LED's and the readers that you use to read them? A couple billion Cheerio's boxes could have come and gone before those will break down.

        • And that plastic bag in the box? That won't break down quickly. And the box may be put in a landfill packed to tight that it will not biodegrade. Sure Chips have an impact. However if they are 1% the size of the box. and the improved efficiency saves 2 out of hundred boxes, then you are better off. Heck those chips my be recyclable too.

          • by Foofoobar (318279)

            And that plastic bag in the box? That won't break down quickly...

            Au contraire. Plastics for packaging as in cereals and plastic bags are being made out of corn based materials now. They break down with minimal amounts of water and sunshine. Even in a landfills they break down in under a few months. This is in response to anti bag legislation being pushed through in several states and cities across the US.

            So again, why are we introducing electronics to our packaging when the trend seems to be to reduce

      • by PRMan (959735)

        Environmentalism is weighing the cost and benefits. Not going crazy and saying no to progress.

        Since when?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Oh yay. Lets fill our landfills with more useless crap. Why the hell do I need LED's and battery is PACKAGING? They go into the trash! We as a society are trying to move towards LESS PACKAGING and recyclable packaging not MORE packaging. Is the consumer expected to rip out that LED and battery and recycle that separate for ever single ceral box they purchase?

      You'll sound more informed if you actually read the article.

      "We already have prototypes which are completely passive," said Dr Mohan.

    • Oh yay. Lets fill our landfills with more useless crap. Why the hell do I need LED's and battery is PACKAGING? They go into the trash! We as a society are trying to move towards LESS PACKAGING and recyclable packaging not MORE packaging. Is the consumer expected to rip out that LED and battery and recycle that separate for ever single ceral box they purchase?

      Calm down, this will make it more easy for the trash robots to find and sort future garbage thrown out of passing flying cars.

    • RTFA (Score:2, Informative)

      by mrobin604 (70201)

      "However, the researchers believe the technology could be refined so that tags were reflective and require no power. "

  • by Important Remark (1604945) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:45AM (#28838151)
    Looking for books on shelves in libraries as a practical use for the latest technology?
  • Price? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hythlodaeus (411441) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:45AM (#28838163)

    If printing the code isn't effectively free, and a device to read it is more than $5, its not a replacement for bar codes.

  • by stickrnan (1290752) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:48AM (#28838221)

    Don't get me wrong. The technology is interesting, albeit limited to battery life. But the images in the article look a lot like a series of datamatrix barcodes. These are already widely used in many industries.

  • by topham (32406) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:49AM (#28838245) Homepage

    As a barcode replacement it sucks. However, the motion capture aspects looked pretty good. Using infrared would improve it as well since the camera can pick it up, but your eye would never notice it.

    • by Seakip18 (1106315)

      Exactly. The video they showed kicks the crap out of Augmented Reality. The bokode is transmitting code that is only visible at a certain angle with much higher precision. IE- if you can see this code at pos(x,y) that means you are looking at this from these angles. Same principle applies to motion capture.

      Those funny green suits would capture things a lot better with this bokode device I bet.

      I'll read the paper later but I agree that, unless it adds some justified value that the existing barcode system doe

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by karstux (681641)

        The Bokode pose estimate seems quite stable indeed, but then the comparison pose estimate (the "G" in the black square) seems to be willfully bad. I've seen better than that, if maybe not quite as stable as the Bokode example, with traditional 2D code matrices.

        Unfortunately, the 2-camera rig that they use (one focused at the scene, one at infinity) isn't exactly standard. And it probably won't work with cell phone cameras at all, since these are fixed-focus. Finally, if the camera has to move around a whole

  • You could take a picture and you'd immediately know where the book you're looking for is.

    ...Somewhere on the shelf.

  • Brilliant! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gardyloo (512791)

    '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.'

    Gosh, that problem has never been approached before! That's a fabulous idea!

  • by backbyter (896397) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:53AM (#28838325)
    I would think RFID would be much better for the given example of a library. To expect the book spines to be completely visible would be a stretch.
    • Could a device the size of a cel-phone effectively triangulate the location of an RFID tag? The proposed device wouldn't work well in a library, but I don't see RFID as very useful either. If you have to walk your reader past every book you might as well just read the spines.
      • What if you could modulate the power of your reader? Use a 10-foot setting while you're walking past the cases, a 2 foot setting to find the right shelf, and a 6 inch setting ot find the right area on the shelf?
        • by karstux (681641)

          Even better, you can use a probabilistic sensor model and incrementally refine your position estimate of the RFID tag based on tag detection rates. If you're genuinely interested, look at this paper [psu.edu].

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jhoger (519683)

        RFID is very appropriate for this. It's short range... you just need to walk your reader by the stack it will tell you if it's there or not. That is, it's a heuristic that tells you whether you need to bother looking closer, which presumably would save time.

        Also, the reader + database could tell you if you are near a book which is in the wrong place, and which book it is. Then you look closer, pull the problem book for re-shelving.

      • by Zerth (26112)

        I'm sure somebody could make a RFID version of kismet, if they haven't already. But yah, it'd only be helpful if the book was misfiled, otherwise just look at the section labels on the shelves.

        Where it would actually be useful is in shipping containers/pallets, but only if you really needed to find something without sorting through the whole load.

    • by karstux (681641)

      Besides, in a properly organized library finding a particular book is very, very easy, as long as you know the signature and the book is at its proper place. Might be quite handy for spotting those misplaced books, though.

    • I had figured you'd take a picture of some centralized bokode and it would contain enough information to give you the location of any book in the library (much like you might walk up to a map/directory kiosk at the mall). After all, a cell phone camera wouldn't have the resolution necessary to clearly see the spine of every book in the library, even if they were all within eyesight.

      Then again...we already have the card catalog at libraries, and it doesn't require a cell phone with a camera or a set of sp
  • by houghi (78078) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:56AM (#28838403)

    If it is able to hold so much information, why not get the whole book and not just the location? Well, with the books I read that should not be a problem. They are about 8 pages, made of chewable non-toxid cardboard.

  • New applications are being dreamed up by the team.

    If you have to "dream up new applications" for your brilliant new idea, it's not much of an idea. In fact, if the application(s) aren't obvious, and in fact, the inpriation for the idea, it's a stupid idea.

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      That reminds me. I got my Google Wave developers invite yesterday.

    • Strange how much human progress and achievement comes from contemplation of the irrelevant.
      - Scott Kim

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wjousts (1529427)
      They said the same thing about lasers when they were first invented.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Minwee (522556)

        They said the same thing about lasers when they were first invented.

        They said "What is this thing, and where are you going with that shark?"

    • by karstux (681641)

      Considering that motion-capturing game controllers are quite the rage in the industry these days, and given that it's a possible application for these Bokodes (they expressly state so in the article), there's obvious potential there.

  • by AP31R0N (723649) on Monday July 27, 2009 @12:10PM (#28838675)

    Can a modmin please edit the summary to include the passive bokodes that DON'T need batteries? About half of the repliers to this thread DNWtFV*, and missed that bit.

  • by localman57 (1340533) on Monday July 27, 2009 @12:29PM (#28839069)
    A bar code can be somewhat dirty or damaged and still work. I'm thinking that the first time some snotty-nosed little kid walks into the children's section of the library, he'll probably wipe out the ability of dozens of books to be scanned with his mucus-mist.
    It seems to me that even a small obstruction, dust, or damage to the led lens would wipe out a lot of the displable data of this led device.
  • Mmmm, my cell phone (android) has been able to read barcodes for quite some time now... why exactly do they feel that you need to have a special barcode for that?
  • For example, they could be used to encode nutritional information or pricing offers.

    "One to the side may say 'hey, look at me, I'm a dollar cheaper'," said Dr Mohan.

    Why exactly would a manufacturer want to put this on their products? Why would a store want to have this on their shelves? No store owner is going to want people in their store, looking at their fancy barcodes, and finding out that something else is cheaper, or worse, the store across the street has the same thing for less.

  • "Don't you know the Dewey Decimal System?!?!?!?!", Conan The Librarian

  • by wjousts (1529427)

    Yes, I know they have a prototype unpowered version

    So the current powered version has all the disadvantages of being powered coupled with all the disadvantages of traditional barcodes (you need a line-of-sight). Passive RFID tags need no battery and need no line-of-sight to the tag, although their range is limited.

  • by Animaether (411575) on Monday July 27, 2009 @12:53PM (#28839523) Journal

    it's for advertising. If that isn't obvious to somebody who saw the top-most picture in the project page, then they need to think inside the box more.

    Nobody's going to use this for barcodes-as-we-know-them.
    They *might* replace something like a QR code encoding lots of information (rather than effectively a link to more information), but for almost anything worth describing, it's worth putting it there in plaintext.
    ( what, I'm going to go to a museum of modern art, and 'admire' a sculpture from 20 yards away just because the bokode can be read from that distance? I think not. )

    No, this is gonna be for advertising. Imagine you're taking some casual pictures of some friends in a night out in town. You just snap the shots, come home, and whoa - the entire out-of-focus background is laden with Coca~Cola, McDonald's, Ford and whatnot logos and other texts.

    The beauty of it is that they could combine it with existing light-based advertising displays. Every LED in the matrix displays at Times Square could easily have this bokode applied so that even if somebody's taking a picture of a competitor's matrix display making yours out of focus - yours will still stand out.

    ( I sure -hope- this won't actually be the case, but you know them wiley advertising people. )

    • by Danse (1026)

      No, this is gonna be for advertising. Imagine you're taking some casual pictures of some friends in a night out in town. You just snap the shots, come home, and whoa - the entire out-of-focus background is laden with Coca~Cola, McDonald's, Ford and whatnot logos and other texts.

      Wha? How exactly would that happen unless you're using some ad-driven application sponsored by Coca-Cola McDonald's and Ford that alters your image to highlight their products?

      The beauty of it is that they could combine it with existing light-based advertising displays. Every LED in the matrix displays at Times Square could easily have this bokode applied so that even if somebody's taking a picture of a competitor's matrix display making yours out of focus - yours will still stand out.

      ( I sure -hope- this won't actually be the case, but you know them wiley advertising people. )

      I don't think anyone is going to be altering your images in any way. Unless you deliberately use software to read these images and perform certain types of operations based on that information, then you'll still just have a regular old picture.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by B Nesson (1153483)
      For the record, every LED in the matrix displays at Times Square couldn't easily have anything applied, at least not more than once. I used to work in the factory that made most of those signs. Maybe they could implement something up in electrical assembly that could spray something on once, when the display mods are being produced, but A) there'd be no point, since you couldn't change it or resell that ad space, B) it would reduce the intensity of each LED, and C) it would likely reduce the overall lifes
  • "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."

    Dewey Decimal System already does that.
    Are books ever where they're supposed to be?

    This shit is about as useful as barcode scanners for home use. We already have 2D barcodes if we need more information. All this will be used for is advertising.

  • 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.'

    I can't believe it's taken so long to come up with a solution to for finding books in libraries [wikipedia.org]. Maybe they can even find a way to extend this to allow online searches for books [loc.gov].

  • by Orleron (835910) on Monday July 27, 2009 @01:24PM (#28840057) Homepage
    the people at MIT do not have to remember a new word for the technology that replaces barcodes, because the new word, bokode, is pronounced the same way in New England.
    /baaaa code/
  • Read their paper. It is very cool! It isn't a photograph but seems to be using micro lenses positioned a focal length away from their matrix of matrix codes, to define a kind of light field where you can acquire information at arbitrary magnification by stepping farther away from the object. Limited only by your camera's resolution I suppose. They even have a prototype lens array based on ANTARCTIC KRILL eye which looks like a bulging disc shaped eye covering 180 degrees horizontally and a good number of de

  • We already have Semacode, which can be read by phones with cameras. Semacode encodes an URL. The URL can point to something that can hold potentially an infinite amount of data. Since most phones these days have Internet access, Semacode is all you need.
  • 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.

    Somebody should tell these guys there's a thing called Kindle. Are you sure they are MIT??

  • Some clarifications (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 27, 2009 @01:54PM (#28840615)

    Disclaimer: I am one of the authors of the paper.

    The story title and summary are a little unfortunate. We do not imagine the Bokode to replace traditional barcodes anytime soon. However, the real strength of the Bokode are:

    - you get extremely accurate pose estimation of the camera relative to the Bokode. This means that the camera knows its position relative to the Bokode. This is something a standard barcode just does not provide. This opens up interesting applications in the areas of augmented reality, motion capture, and human-computer interaction (such as multiple people interacting with a large display from a distance).

    - they are nearly imperceptible to humans, yet can be read by a standard camera. Unlike RFIDs, you don't need to carry an RFID reader. You can read them with a standard camera, or even by looking into them with your eye really close to the Bokode.

    - We are actively working on completely passive and flat bokode prototypes, and have some results with passive bokodes in the paper.

  • The advantages of this are questionable over what we already have.

    What we need is the ability to stand in the doorway of library or a warehouse and know where something is relative to your current position. Kind of like how google maps works. We need to be able to not just index but locate, and do it in such a way that dead batteries are not an issue. Perhaps some sort of radioactive isotope or something. Something that later as things get automated more, a machine can easily locate. We don't want to just i

  • "For traditional barcodes you need to be a foot away from it at most," said Dr Mohan.

    We scan bar codes from 5 feet away regularly in our DC. All of the cartons and locations and upc's, you don't have to be that close, not sure why Dr. Mohan would make such an incorrect statement like that.

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