It wouldn’t be helpful having barcodes if we didn’t have the technology to read them. Barcode scanners have to read the zebra lines on products incredibly quickly and send the information to a computer, which will recognize them immediately using a database. Here’s exactly how they do it.
Let’s assume that barcodes are simple patterns, with each black line representing a number one and each white line a zero. We are all aware that real barcodes are more difficult than this, but let’s keep it simple for the sake of this example.
- The scanner shines a laser light or LED onto the barcode.
- Light reflects off the barcode into a light-detecting component called a photoelectrical cell. The white areas of reflect the lightest and the black areas reflect the least.
- As the scanner progresses past the barcode, the cell generates a pattern of pulses that speaks to the white and black stripes. So if the strips read “black white black black black white”, the cell would be “off on off off off on”.
- An electronic circuit that is attached to the scanner converts these pulses into binary digits.
- The binary digits are sent off to a computer that is attached to the scanner, which detects the code.
In most scanners, there is one photoelectric cell and, as you move the scanner past the code, the cell detects each part of the barcode. In more advanced scanners, there is a whole lot of photoelectric cells and the code is detected in one go. But in reality, scanners do not detect ones and zeros and produce binary numbers as the output. They convert the sequences into decimal numbers.
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