MIT About To Unveil A Barcode Alternative: The Bokode

Written by Evan Schuman
July 26th, 2009

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, such as 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, it can trump RFID tags in a few ways: RFID tags “are used to determine the presence of an object within a certain range, but do not reveal its location. They suffer from lack of sufficient directionality and interference with neighboring tags. Although RFID tags can be sensed over distance, they create significant security issues. In the case of passive RFID, the reading distance range may be very limited with the use of a reasonably priced reader. Although active RFID might have greater ranges of operation, it requires an on board power source on each tag. However, RFID still has a long way to go before each user is empowered with a simple RFID reader.”

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.

The bokode’s theoretical ability to use low-cost consumer-level cameras may address lowering the cost of infrastructure, as well as making it easier to integrate. At a per-tag price of about $5 for the bokode, it will still need huge volumes to become practical. It also is physically somewhat thicker than a traditional barcode.

An unorthodox element of the bokode approach is that it reveals the data in the coding only when a camera is displaying a blurred, out-of-focus image, which is why the data is not visible to the eye.


One Comment | Read MIT About To Unveil A Barcode Alternative: The Bokode

  1. Chris Kapsambelis Says:

    Like RFID, this is just another ill-conceived idea from MIT.

    The Achilles’ Heel of this technology is that a fly speck would render any bokode symbol useless.


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