Bokode, A New Barcode


The MIT Camera Culture Group utilized Bokeh, an effect where the lens is purposely placed out of focus, in order to vastly improve current 2D barcode technology. Dubbed Bokode, the team claims that an off the shelf camera can read data 2.5 microns from a distance of over 4 meters, compared to today’s average barcode reader’s maximum distance of only a foot or so. What looks most interesting is the ability to produce a smoother and more accurate distance and angle calculations (relative to the camera): allowing for a better augmented reality. It also seems to be more secure than traditional 2D barcodes, that is of course until the hacker community gets a hold of it.

[Thanks Talin]

32 thoughts on “Bokode, A New Barcode

  1. personally i don’t expect to see this in a supermarket anytime within my lifetime, all the UPC does is point to a location in the database, so this goes overboard (plus if there is a problem with either the scanner or the “bokode” then the cashier needs a way to put it in manually) this is all assuming i understand this LED barcode idea right

  2. Hmmm, a very intriguing use of that effect, it probably will find its niche eventually, but current barcodes are good enough for normal use, personally, I think that those passive micro rfid tags will be used in essentially the same fashion as this (store use) for a fraction of the size and cost.
    as for the augmented reality app, the fov on the ‘bokode’, although more accurate, is severely limited compared to the previous versions of ar tags.

  3. I don’t quite see it replacing barcodes but it does have some pretty remarkable properties. The positional information is the bunny for me. this is a lens effect and you see a spectrum of info based on position giving you back your own position. this is fairly useful, although as napalm said not as versatile as ar tags. After some experimentation i found that the effect could be replicated with a lens out of a cameraphone and a standard digital camera. the only hurdle in making it repeatable is finding an accessible source for microprinting.

    now that cameras are becoming pretty disposable it’s not absurd to have a second camera tacked on to a device scanning for bokodes, it just doesn’t seem likely in the near future.

  4. this is fairly restarted. once again they’ve taken something that already exists (see the wireless power post) that we’ve known about for quite some time and tried to ‘re-invent’ it.

    Using the Fourier-transform properties of a lens is all well and good, but your system resolution is now limited by the dpi of the printing. most off-the-shelf printers don’t have high enough resolution to allow the resulting ‘image’ to contain more than a small amount of data.

  5. Good to see Raskar and his team still coming up with interesting ideas.

    According to the paper, they used feature sizes as big as 15um, which amounts to 1600 DPI printing resolution (a rough calculation). Commercial printers are not too far off. And if equipment is made for bokoding purposes, attaining higher DPI shouldn’t be a huge technical challenge.

    Also bokodes do not have to be illuminated by LEDs, the can be made highly reflective; my guess is you could achieve the same effect with flash photography.

  6. Sooo, essentially one could attain wiimote-like pointer functions in an unpowered keychain fob using a retroreflector bokode design and IR lighting and camera. Did I read that right?

    Heck, you could have lightgun functions using a purely mechanical system that switches out the tag field with a trigger pull. TV games just got a _lot_ more interesting.

  7. wow this will make an excellent addition to arduino’s and twitter. Picture it scan the barcode, which in turn tells twitter it’s been scanned which in turn tells the arduino to flash some mad crazy lights.

  8. I know I’m going to be shouted down, but I can totally see this replacing current generation barcodes in the next couple years (my gut instinct says “20 years” but I suspect it might be sooner than that). all it takes is for somebody to be able to go in and point their camera phone or PDA at an aisle and have it be able to read all the prices, item names, and descriptions, and further be able to tag images and keep that data either on a phone or upload it to a server somewhere (eg, email it as a ‘wish list’) and everybody’s going to want to be on this boat.

  9. Working in a boxplant may give me a little more insight into this, but i do not believe this is gonna catch on ANY time soon. UPC’s as they are now can just be printed on any box durring any printing process. Making this a standard would cause the packaging industry to spend millions if not billions on retrofitting the new hardware to install these (if possible) or isntalling new machines that install these as their sole purpose. Now, add a crew to run the machine and time to run it through, waste from accidents and setup, the boxes will be exponentially more expensive as well.
    I’d also agree with sean(first post) any scan errors casheirs are gonna need a (out of focus :) )maginying glass to punch those in manually.

    I can see it a plus for augmented reality, but it’s definately never going to replace UPCs

  10. @neckbeard
    I hope that was sarcasm I was picking up there. the arduino has largely prompted “hackers” to become lazy in their ideas, and use something that really doesn’t properly fit the job to which it’s assigned. and aside from a few cases, mostly news and celebrities that people actually care about, twitter’s one of the most useless creations of our age. I really don’t care to read tweets every time mr. muffins uses his litter box.

  11. @medix-

    tell you what, if you want them to just stop where we’re at, seeing as how we’ve had lightbulb+fluorescent+leds and old calculators+room size computers+desktops+laptops+smartphones and other things that are made more betterer, i say innovation distinguishes between leaders and followers. at this point, i believe we (u.s.) are followers

  12. Effective magnification is proportional to the aperture size. TFP (paper) says essentially that the tiny aperture cameras on cell phones don’t work. Seems like that rules out the most interesting appilcations…

  13. @ghrayfahx

    Props mate. I got flamed the other day for commenting on a post that used microchip products as an example in a how-to (you know, the microprocessors that use *real* C and started all this ‘hacking’). good to see that I’m not the *only* one who still believes that ‘easy’ is *not* the way to ‘new and better’

    @incognito53 – making this ‘more better’ as you so eloquently suggested, is not innovation. it may be an improvement of an old concept, but as you have read here, companies (and the world in general) are not about to re-invest millions of dollars to replace a system that already works (if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it). you see, the world *revolves* around money. that’s why rfid is still years away from being viable in supermarkets because it’s still *cheaper* to print a barcode on a package (which costs fractions of a cent). mind you, the same cannot be said for the shipping container industry, but that’s an entirely different story.

    don’t get me wrong, this is an interesting idea. I do research in optics every day (though a good deal more complicated and theoretical than this), however there has been a rash of ideas / projects (i.e. wireless power) that have tried to ‘re-invent the wheel’ and claim it’s a ‘new’ idea.

    @ghrayfahx was right. we’re getting (terribly) lazy. i find it disheartening that it doesn’t take much to ‘impress’ these days.

  14. @ m@

    In the article, it states that the effective range for small aperture lenses is measured in inches (which bothered Unkowotabenasai, since the range for SLR-style cameras is measured in meters). The advantage of a bokode over most other 1 and 2-dimensional barcodes is that the bokode can theoretically be scanned by a cameraphone that doesn’t have a macro lens.


    You noticed that, eh? Yeah, the cost for a current-design bokode would be prohibitive. This is why Raskar, et al. are working on a holographic version – a white-light holograph of the whole assembly, lens and all, will be _much_ cheaper to implement as a UPC replacement, probably in the same cost range as current RFID technology. This won’t make bokode a competitor to the UPC, I admit. It won’t be quite the insane choice that it seems now, though.

  15. @neckbeard
    I assumed it was the case. I just have become a bit jaded here latetely seeing all the “Hacks” that have been on here lately. I love that there’s more than one “hack a day” now, but the quality has been severely lacking. We need a Arduino revolt.

  16. In defense of the Arduino, it did bring a lot of people to electronics. People who lack the basic knowledge or would have been too intimidated to start from scratch. Old school hackers like yourselves can just continue to innovate using nothing but transistors, can’t they?

  17. @mycroftxxx
    I’m hoping embedded cameras become higher quality and larger as cell bandwidth gets cheaper and photo sharing devours the planet. That’ll probably open up an avenue for ubiquitous bokode.

    I finally did a writeup on the experimentation I’ve been doing on recreating the effect with minimal resources.

  18. Its amazing seeing the difference in people, there are those with absolutely no vision that base the use of technology on what is presented initially and then there are those that have imagination that when presented with an idea immediately think of ways to implement it.

    thank god no everyone is like the later or we would progress really slowly as a race.

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