Barcodes are used on all kinds of products to identify the producer and the type of product. Codes embedded this way are often based on GS1’s standard Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). However, while this code can accomodate product identification, it can not identify a product instance uniquely. Since traceability requires last years’ products to be kept apart from the ones produced this year (and so on), schemes like SGTIN (Serialized GTIN) have been devised to accomodate more precise identification. This need for more information has motivated the introduction of RFID tags to carry codes like the Electronic Product Code (EPC). Another approach is two dimensional (2D) barcodes. Both these alternatives are able to carry more information than the traditional barcode. The question then is whether they are available to consumers?
The mobile phone as a consumer tool
The consumer is the final user of a product. So how can the product’s traceability information be shared with the consumer? Well, the mobile phone can be used as a platform for giving the consumer access to traceability information, either through keying in , relying on RFID reading technology, or by combining integrated cameras with special software.
I do not expect users to probe each item they buy this way – after all we have a general trust in both the things we buy repeatedly and the retail outlets we use. But whenever I am offered something new, perhaps followed by some credence claims, I guess more than myself will be interested in veryfying the product’s right to my trust.
Televised news item
The Norwegian broadcast coorporation (NRK) ran a story on using mobile phones to access traceability information some time ago. An English speaking version of the story is available from TraceTracker’s news page as http://www.tracetracker.com/cgi/news.cgi?id=182. In this story the mobile phone’s integrated camera was used to access information embeddd in a 2D barcode. Since there are alternative technologies available, it remains to be seen which will prevail, or if there is room for both.
While RFID readers in mobile phones (called Near Field Communication [NFC] by the way) requires special hardware, the use of 2D barcodes can be solved with software. This difference may be playing a role in shaping how traceability information is made available to the public.