Japan: New Scanner could be the End for Barcodes

On the Digital Trends blog I read that Japanese company, Toshiba, has developed a, so called, food recognition technology. The new technology is a scanner which recognises the item of food, particularly fruits and vegetables, thus removing the need for barcodes.

Packages and labels can be crumpled so that the barcode can’t be read at the check-out point. Furthermore fruit and vegetables in supermarkets don’t usually have barcodes because they’re put out while they’re fresh, so these items can’t be read at the register using barcodes, which means that either a shop assistant has to weigh, put in the correct data and label the product with a barcode or it is the cashier responsible for this job.
Shoppers all over the world have experienced the situation that the cashier has to key in the code manually. Even worse the cashier may not recognize some items (exotic fruits, rare vegetables, varieties), which can cause further delays. It’s not a big issue, but it can be quite frustrating, particularly with a long line of shoppers waiting for their turn to check out.

Toshiba has developed this new scanner to solve that problem. The Object Recognition Scanner works by utilizing pattern and colour recognition technology being developed by the company.
Toshiba explains that, although the scanner is capable of recognising any type of food it is particularly useful when it comes to fruits and vegetables, although it also can identify packaged items like bread and canned goods. Similar to how facial recognition technology puts parameters like the width of the nose and the distance between eyes as ways to identify people, the ORS uses certain parameters to categorize and identify goods. Specifically, Toshiba utilizes a pattern and colour recognition technology so precise it can sense subtle differences between similar products.

The technology is already well advanced so it can easily identify, not just what sort of fruit it is being shown, but even the variety of a fruit it is being shown. This is likely to save time and avoid mistakes as shop assistants will not need to search for the correct code each time they are presented with a different product variety.

Toshiba’s scanner utilizes a camera that can operate at high swiping speeds, identifying items as they are being whisked by. The ORS is able to do this by isolating any other image “noise,” and thereby concentrating only on the food product. The video shows a cashier scanning a vegetable like they would an item with a barcode over a laser scanner.

Although the technology certainly has potential, I don’t see a fast conquering of the supermarkets worldwide. Toshiba’s claim that “the new technology could soon be seen at supermarket checkouts around the globe”, is based upon the idea that the company is building up a huge database of produce and other grocery store items.
However, being that the market is a global one, this product database will likely be limited to Japanese grocery items for now, and the ORS itself to Japanese grocery stores.

Additionally don’t forget that the Japanese consumer is quite different from the American or European one. In Japan fresh produce is highly selective and of indisputable super-high quality. Consequently the consumer buys one or two units of some fruit or vegetable and not as in most countries where the consumer buys “in bulk” (in pounds or kilos that is) and weighs the product himself or at the check-out point.

Nevertheless the development is worth to keep a close eye on it.

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3 responses to “Japan: New Scanner could be the End for Barcodes

  1. Pingback: Alimentes | Annotary·

  2. Pingback: Could Food Recognition Replace Barcodes at Supermarkets? | Barcoding Inc. Blog Barcoding Blog·

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