The Barcode Update You Never Asked for, but Still Need

Just a few weeks after celebrating the 35th birthday of the barcode, researchers at MIT have unveiled a promising replacement for the aging standard.

Dubbed the Bokode, the system uses a clever focusing technique that allows a small beam of light to hold a wealth of easily accessible information. Bokodes are based on the "bokeh effect" in photography, where light blurs into a round blob as a lens focuses to infinity. The LED in the center of the image above is actually projecting a series of tiny 2D barcodes through a lens that defocuses the images. Even though these images appear out of focus to the naked eye, when your camera lens focuses to infinity the tiny 2D barcodes can be read. The visual demo in the video below helps conceptualize how the technology works. Because the system is able to hold so many 2D barcodes in a such small space, a Bokode can store thousands of bits of data. There's enough storage space on a Bokode that it can both identify what you are buying at the grocery store and display the entire nutritional facts label.

The cost of the LEDs and lenses involved means that each Bokode runs about five bucks a pop. Researchers claim the price of a Bokode could decrease to as little as five cents each, though, once the LED is replaced by a holographic sticker like the ones commonly seen on credit cards.

The implications of the Bokode could be huge. While traditional 1D and 2D barcodes can be read by cell phone cameras, the camera has to be extremely close to the barcode in order to get a good read. The Bokode is much more robust and can be read from as far as a few meters away. Cameras can even scan multiple Bokodes at once. Imagine how easy comparison shopping at Best Buy would be with a system like that.

Bokodes have the potential to dramatically alter the way we interface with products and each other. The technology can be applied to anything from retail merchandise to augmented reality business cards. Even though the development of a new type of barcode might sound mundane at first, the fact that the Bokode paper was accepted as one of six premier articles to be presented at SIGGRAPH indicates just how exciting the technology is and how far reaching the impact could be. [Press Release via Fast Company]