Mobile couponing has been growing as way for retailers to offer convenient savings for their customer base. Rather than haul a pile of coupons to the store, you just load up a text message or email or whatever and scan at checkout. This also allows retailers to track coupon usage, as you can send custom codes to specific customers and see which ones work and which don’t.

Unfortunately, laser barcode scanners can’t read barcodes on LCD screens. They calculate barcode data based on the laser light reflected back and all they really get back from a glass screen is reflection. Mobeam is trying to remedy this and have a solution that will be in the Samsung Galaxy S 4, according to Engadget. Their technology has to be baked into the phone, and when it’s time to scan, the phone flashes light in a certain pattern that tricks the scanner into treating is as reflected barcode data.

This technology would’ve been terrific 5 or 6 years ago, but linear imager technology has advanced to the point that a scanner such as the Honeywell Hyperion 1300g or Motorola LI4278 can read off LCD screens without much trouble. There’s also the problem that phone manufacturers have to opt in to add this functionality, and customers have to buy compatible phones. I’m not sureĀ  if they’re going to hit critical mass with one Android phone supporting their technology.

The migration to imaging technology in data capture seems inevitable at this point. Even those big grocery scales are getting updated to support imaging in one or both scanning planes, such as the Honeywell Stratos 2700 and Motorola MP6000. I could see this being a viable technology for low-resolution feature phones, since they’d have trouble displaying the barcode properly. And I guess for retailers who don’t feel ready to move to imagers it’s a smart choice. But at the point almost every major retailer with in-counter laser scanning also has an imager, either 1D or 2D, hanging out as an alternative.

As part of being a huge nerd product manager/marketing dude, I need to keep up with random tech blogs & journals to see if there are “emerging markets where we can leverage our unique offerings.” Or it’s fun to read articles about POS gear from people outside of the industry. Take your pick. Case in point, this article about a girl in Pennsylvania who claims a barcode scanner caused burns on her face and gave her Tourette’s syndrome. It’s very interesting that technology that is very much integrated into our daily lives can still be so foreign to a large portion of the populace.

After many many episodes at work of a coworker saying “Hey, check out this page” only to look up and get blasted in the face with a 2D imager’s techno flash dance party illumination, I feel like I can state that no, light from a barcode scanner cannot cause physical harm. And that revenge is best served when they’re on the phone.

The article also reminded me of a customer interaction right after I started working here. It was the owner of a business with his lawyer on a conference call, wanting to verify/dispute the claim that one of their employees suffered eye damage from looking directly into an LED barcode scanner. I had been working here all of… a month… so I had a little inkling that it wouldn’t hurt but I still asked my supervisor, who promptly started laughing. Being the uninformed brand new employee I was, I said that maybe if the person stared into the beam all day everyday for a year, they could quite possibly have something that happens that is different from if they didn’t do that. Pretty vague, but I like it. I was also trying not to giggle at that point.

The beam LED barcode scanners emit can’t hurt you, otherwise LED lightbulb manufacturers would be in hot water. Laser barcode scanners still have the same warning you see on laser pointers, and that’s because it’s more focused energy. Some of the stronger scanners (class II & class III lasers) could cause problems with prolonged exposure, but manufacturers wouldn’t build a product to be used by adolescents if it could cause blindness. That’s how they go out of business.

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