Always looking for the next big thing, manufacturing researchers have been discussing the concept of three dimensional barcodes. This technology is still in its initial phases, being implemented in some areas, but not being created or distributed in high velocity. So what are they anyways? These 3D barcodes are similar in function to 2D barcodes except they're significantly more durable. Where the last evolution of barcodes saw a jump in size, these new ones show a growth in function. Many manufacturers would love to embrace barcodes to make their own tracking easier, however a lot of manufacturing is done at very high temperatures with extreme chemicals and processes being used to develop a product. Situations like this make it near, if not completely, impossible to implement a typical barcode that can stand up to the elements without becoming distorted and useless.
This is where three dimensional barcodes come in. The barcode image is still read and decoded to by a scanning device which then can identify or track a product based on the information stored in the code. The process is where the big difference comes in. Instead of analyzing a code based on the ratio between the white and black areas of a code, often in combination with identifying unique arrangements of geometric shapes in the barcode, it uses height. These 3D barcodes are truly three dimensional; the barcode is printed by way of embossing which makes some parts of the code raised. The light from an accompanying scanner determines how high a line in the barcode is based on how long it takes to reflect back.
Durability aside, these new barcodes also hold a lot of promise for general marketing. Other two dimensional barcodes are black and white and the laser of a scanner can tell which areas are which by how it is reflected. 3D barcodes use the concept or lasers and reflection as well, but only to determine height, not color. One big flaw in 2D barcodes, especially the ever popular QR codes, is that they can only be customized to a certain point. Built in error correction gives some leeway for creative minds to personalize their barcode with colors, text or small images, but doing so is very touchy and can easily make a barcode become unreadable. Three dimensional barcodes no longer face this challenge. Instead they can be any color and have images or text imposed behind them as long as it doesn't interfere with height detection.
The technology behind these three dimensional barcodes is absolutely fascinating, but it seems the time when they'll become “mainstream” is still far off. Despite the added convenience, people are often reluctant to adopt new barcode technology if it means heavy investment into scanners which can interpret the code. Regardless, 3D barcodes are still young and have a lot of room to grow into something that could easily be welcomed as the next generation of barcodes.