When “Dumb” Things Join the WoT: The Art of Barcode Scanning

Ok, so we talked a lot about integrating sensor nodes to the Web, then about integrating home appliances to the Web or about integrating industrial machines to the Web.

How about simple, dumb, traditional objects? Well the community is working on it! As an example, one of our latest projects is to Web-enable the global RFID networks (EPC) so that every RFID-tagged object becomes a true citizen of the World Wide Web (see our paper at IoT 2010). I’ll tell you more about this project soon but meanwhile I want to talk about even more dumb objects: those tagged with barcodes only!

We are big fans of barcode scanning. Most of our projects (like the home mashups project) use them as a “bootstrap” for obtaining the entry address of smart things (i.e., the root URL). We are even bigger fans of mobile barcode scanning because, actually, the mobile phone is probably the best interface to smart things out there.
But until today, barcode scanning (and especially 1-D barcode scanning) was a rather painful/frustrating/oh-my-gosh-I-wont-do-it-again process!

Say hello to Mirasense! Knowing the guys behind it, we actually knew about their superior scanning technology a while ago (and could really test it!). Now, they are going live on the iPhone platform with the Scandit free iTunes US Appstore app.

Scandit shows that barcode scanning is about to become a real input modality, a commodity. The app manages to scan almost any barcode in any situation, check it out:

Yeah I know the video looks suspicious and you can show whatever you want on a video. But hey your devoted blogger had the chance to test it live. Still not believing me? Well this is backed by a scientific paper at the IoT 2010 conference. Still dubious? Well just install it then!

While this does not yet address the pure “Web” aspect of barcode tagged object (i.e., how do you create RESTful Web APIs to access authoritative data, traces, etc. about these objects), in their Scandit app, they further integrate the scanner with a lot of different services and information on the Web (BestBuy, social networks, twitter, etc.) turning the shopping experience into a giant and automated data mashup:

Having recently moved from iPhone to Android and feeling sooooo good about it, I just can’t wait for the Android version to come out (apparently it’s planned).

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  • it is sort of sad to see that so many people in the bar code space seem to see the “scan product codes and compare prices” as the only use case they can come up with. it is good from the research point of view, though, because the whole space of scenarios beyond that really simplistic world view is still open for exploration and development.

    however, as long as all they do is scan UPC codes, maybe the only use case indeed is to look up products and just pull in prices from some set of shopping-oriented web services. but i do hope that this advanced scanning will also be applied to the more interesting use case of 2D codes so that we can encode URIs, which will open up a new world of high-performance scanning of web identifiers to advance the web of things.

  • Totally agree with you, there is still so much space for exploring more than “scan product, compare price”. I know that in their “research lab” they actually exploring a lot of different and more advanced applications, I guess they mainly wanted to bring out something that speaks to everybody.

    Well actually, indeed, for the WoT we need URLs in barcodes and I know from good sources that they will include 2D barcodes soon. Actually scanning 2D barcodes is a much simpler task than 1D (thanks to the markers 2D barcodes have) so they can use the same technology without any major changes (their SDK might do that already, but I would need to check).

    Having said that, it is apparently also possible to encode small URLs (bit.ly like) in 1D barcodes which is pretty nice as well. Of course then they are not standard UPC codes anymore but they could potentially be printed using the exact same printers as for the UPC codes!