What do checking out groceries at the supermarket, getting medicine from the pharmacy and shipping a package have in common? Bar codes. The bar code and scanner are now standard technologies for capturing and registering pricing and other retail information.
Joe Woodland is the man who dreamt up the Barcode system. Woodland and Bernard Silver were students at Drexel University in Philadelphia, when Silver overheard a grocery-store executive asking an engineering school dean to channel students into research on how product information could be captured at checkout.
The two of them went to work on a solution, burning through several ideas. Continuing to think about the problem on a visit to his grandparents' home at Miami Beach, Woodland started drawing in the sand.
"I poked four fingers into the sand and for whatever reason — I don't know — I pulled my hand toward me and drew four lines," he told. "I said: 'Golly! Now I have four lines, and they could be wide lines and narrow lines.'" It was a moment of inspiration.
"I went to IBM to see if they would be interested in using the technology that I had come up with," he continued. They talked about bar code technology and within a few hours, Woodland was told to lead the team that IBM had assembled to help retailers adopt the bar code technology.
The team developed a bar-code-reading laser scanner system in response to grocers' need to automate and speed up checkout, while cutting handling and inventory management costs.
Today, about 5 billion products are scanned and tracked worldwide every day
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