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Colorbit USA Debuts Color-based Auto-ID Solution

The company is marketing the technology in North America and Europe, enabling users to track goods or assets via a printed or painted color code captured by a digital camera.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 25, 2013

Colorbit USA, the U.S. division of Japanese company B-Core, was launched this year to introduce B-Core's new color-coded automatic-identification technology to the North American and European markets. The technology, developed and sold by B-Core and currently being employed by a variety of companies in Japan, allows users to track inventory or assets via unique colored patterns as an alternative to serialized bar codes or radio frequency identification.

The system consists of B-Core's software that provides a series of unique colored cells representing a serial number. A user would print each pattern on a label that is then attached to an item, or paint that pattern directly onto that object. The code could also be generated using tri-color light-emitting diodes (LEDs) installed on the asset. When a digital camera in a mobile phone or tablet PC, or a fixed camera, captures the image of a Colorbit scheme, the Colorbit software determines its serial number, thereby identifying goods in a way more typically accomplished using serialized bar codes or RFID.

Examples of Colorbit codes

The technology offers a lower-cost alternative to RFID, according to Chris Anderson, Colorbit USA's managing partner, because it does not require readers, or even tags, since users can print a Colorbit label themselves on any color printer. It does require a clear line of sight, however, so the labels or painted Colorbit codes must be facing the camera. The solution also offers a good alternative to bar codes, Anderson notes. The pattern of colors could be printed in a variety of form factors, including a spiral, making them more attractive to product designers. In addition, they need not be scanned individually—a single photograph containing multiple printed labels will capture all of them.

A Colorbit code is composed of a series of colored cells arranged in a continuous configuration. Each cell is made up of one of three colors (for example, red, green or blue); moving from one color to the next generates either a "1" or "0" bit. When a user takes a digital photo of a code, Colorbit's decoding software interprets that code by tracing the transition from one color to the next. The cells can be of any shape or size, and a code can be successfully read even if the line of cells within a configuration is curved or otherwise distorted. The Colorbit software, Anderson explains, can examine the image's entire field of view, wipe out the background, isolate the codes and decode them typically within less than 100 milliseconds. What's more, if exposure to weather has caused the cells' colors to fade or change, a Colorbit code can still be decoded just as quickly.

First, a user would create a series of serial numbers for the items he or she wishes to track, along with the colors to be used, such as green, red and yellow. The software would then generate a color pattern of cells (which can be of any size or shape) for each serial number, with the number of cells depending on the serial number's length. The pattern could either be printed using any type of color printer directly onto a label, or other paperwork that could accompany, for example, a pallet of goods, or it could be used as a template for the pattern to be painted or printed directly onto an item, either automatically or manually.

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