Online marketplace giant eBay has bought RedLaser, a popular mobile phone app for scanning barcodes.
RedLaser, made by a company called Occipital, caught on with shoppers who liked to check prices of products in physical stores to see if they can find a better deal elsewhere. It works by holding the phone’s camera near the barcode on a product’s package. The app uses its own imaging technology to recognize the barcode (no easy feat with the relatively low-end camera in early model iPhones), and then checks the Internet for examples of that product being sold elsewhere. It’s like a comparison shopping engine for the real world.
RedLaser used to cost $1.99. After the acquistion, eBay has made it free. Occipital, which also makes an iPhone app called ClearCam, will remain a separate company–eBay simply bought the Red Laser app. Terms of the sale weren’t disclosed.
EBay says it has big plans for the scanning technology as it pushes into mobile shopping. The company says it expects to see $1.5 billion in gross merchandise sales volume through its mobile apps this year.
In the next few days, eBay will also unveil a new version of its mobile selling app that integrates RedLaser. The app will let people scan items with barcodes–especially media like books and DVDs–to speed up the process of listing them for sale on the eBay marketplace. Competing marketplace companies have been nipping at eBay’s heels in recent years by offering a more streamlined approach to selling products ranging from media to electronics.
In the future, eBay says it will integrate Red Laser into other programs, including its Marketplace, StubHub and Shopping.com apps.
“The goal is to think about where consumers are when a product becomes of interest — buy or sell. My contention is that most of the time when inspriation strikes us around being a consumer, we are not sitting in front of our laptops,” said Steve Yankovich, vice president of eBay Mobile.
A screen shot of the forthcoming version of eBay’s selling application for the iPhone
A barcode is an optical machine-readable representation of data, which shows certain data on certain products. Originally, barcodes represented data in the widths (lines) and the spacings of parallel lines, and may be referred to as linear or 1D (1 dimensional) barcodes or symbologies. They also come in patterns of squares, dots, hexagons and other geometric patterns within images termed 2D (2 dimensional) matrix codes or symbologies. Although 2D systems use symbols other than bars, they are generally referred to as barcodes as well. Barcodes can be read by optical scanners called barcode readers, or scanned from an image by special software.
The first use of barcodes was to label railroad cars, but they were not commercially successful until they were used to automate supermarket checkout systems, a task in which they have become almost universal. Their use has spread to many other roles as well, tasks that are generically referred to as Auto ID Data Capture (AIDC). Other systems are attempting to make inroads in the AIDC market, but the simplicity, universality and low cost of barcodes has limited the role of these other systems. It costs 0.5¢ (U.S.) to implement a barcode, while passive RFID still costs about 7¢ to 30¢ per tag.
In 2003, Paul Hebert, researcher at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, proposed “DNA barcoding” as a way to identify species. Barcoding uses a very short genetic sequence from a standard part of the genome the way a supermarket scanner distinguishes products using the black stripes of the Universal Product Code (UPC). Two items may look very similar to the untrained eye, but in both cases the barcodes are distinct.
Until now, biological specimens were identified using morphological features like the shape, size and color of body parts. In some cases a trained technician could make routine identifications using morphological “keys” (step-by-step instructions of what to look for), but in most cases an experienced professional taxonomist is needed. If a specimen is damaged or is in an immature stage of development, even specialists may be unable to make identifications. Barcoding solves these problems because even non-specialists can obtain barcodes from tiny amounts of tissue. This is not to say that traditional taxonomy has become less important. Rather, DNA barcoding can serve a dual purpose as a new tool in the taxonomists toolbox supplementing their knowledge as well as being an innovative device for non-experts who need to make a quick identification.