Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) is a broad category of technologies used to collect information from an individual, object, image or sound without manual data entry. AIDC systems are used to manage inventory, delivery, assets, security and documents. Sectors that use AIDC systems include distribution, manufacturing, transportation, medicine, government and retail, among many others.
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AIDC applications typically fall into one of a few categories: identification and validation at the source, tracking, and interfaces to other systems. The actual technologies involved, the information obtained and the purpose of collection vary widely.
Current AIDC technologies include:
- Barcodes, which consist of small images of lines (bars) and spaces affixed to retail store items, ID cards and postal mail to identify a particular product number, person or location. A barcode reader uses a laser beam that is sensitive to the reflections from the line and space thickness and variation. The reader translates information from the image to digital data and sends it to a computer for storage or for another process.
2D barcodes store information not only horizontally, as one-dimensional barcodes do, but vertically as well. That construction enables 2D codes to store up to 7,089 characters. The traditional, unidimensional barcode has a 20-character capacity.
- Magnetic stripes, which are typically seen on credit cards, debit cards, key cards and swipe cards. The stripe consists of iron-based magnetic particles in plastic-like tape. Each particle is a tiny bar magnet. Information is written on the stripe by magnetizing the tiny bars in either a north or south pole direction. The writing process, called flux reversal, causes changes in the magnetic field that can be detected by a magnetic stripe reader.
- Smart cards, which are plastic cards about the size of a credit card with an embedded microchip. A smart card can store much more data than a magnetic stripe card. It can be loaded with data, used for telephone calling, electronic cash payments, accessing services and other applications. The card can be refreshed for reuse. Some smart cards can include programming and support multiple applications.
- Optical character recognition (OCR), which is the recognition of printed or written text characters by a computer. The process includes scanning the text character-by-character, analyzing the resulting character image and translating that image into a machine-readable character code, such as ASCII. Among other things, OCR is used to digitize documents and books, sort mail, and process checks and mail-based payments by credit cards.
- Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems, which consist of three components: an antenna and transceiver (often combined into a single device) and a transponder (the tag). The antenna transmits a signal that activates the transponder, which then transmits data back to the antenna. The data is used to notify a programmable logic controller that some specific action should occur. Because RFID does not require direct contact or line-of-sight scanning, RFID tags are replacing barcodes in many applications.
- Various biometrics applications, which identify individuals by comparing captured biological data, such as fingerprints, voice characteristics and iris patterns, against stored data for that individual. Biometric systems consist of a reader or scanning device, software that converts the scanned biological data into a digital format and compares match points, and a database that stores the biometric data for comparison. Authentication by biometric verification is becoming increasingly common in corporate and public security systems, consumer electronics and point of sale (POS) applications. Specific biometric AIDC technologies include fingerscanning, electro-optical fingerprint recognition, finger vein ID and voice recognition.