MIT's Media Lab is readying the next technology that will try and challenge the barcode. It's a 3-millimeter optical tag called a Bokode that can store roughly a million times more data than today's typical barcode (at the same size) and it claims some key advantages compared with RFID tags.
"Current optical tags, such as barcodes, must be read within a short range and the codes occupy valuable physical space on products," said an MIT document describing the new device. "We present a new low-cost optical design so that the tags can be shrunk to 3mm visible diameter and unmodified ordinary cameras several meters away can be set up to decode the identity plus the relative distance and angle," something the document describes as "like a long distance microscope."
This technique of analyzing the light-reflection has a few potential advantages. For one, bokodes are much more difficult to fabricate, meaning it will be much more difficult for thieves to use consumer-grade printers to make fake stickers or to print bogus codes on product containers. Also, compared with an RFID tag, a bokode could be more easily blocked to prevent someone from reading the tag when it's not supposed to be read.
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