The scanner's ability to translate typewriter characters into bit-mapped image into ASCII text depends on a number of factors, including the sensitivity of the device itself and the legibility and method of preparation of the original document; however, improvements are being made all of the time and even formerly graphic-based scanning systems such as Adobe's notoriously slow PDF applications have incorporated character recognition systems that allow for textual scanning. Some of these character recognition systems incorporate features that provide output options to convert the text into a format used by common word-processing programs such as RTF, Word and so forth. According to Dry and Lawler, the term "scanning" is frequently used today to describe the process of creating digitized images; in this approach, a graphic picture of the page, rather than an actual transcription of the text itself, is stored in the computer. "While this provides an effective means of delivering text for reading, the text itself in such an image cannot be processed in any way by the computer," they say (Dry & Lawler, p. 106).
Magnetic Ink Character Recognition. Anyone who has ever written or received a check has been the beneficiary of magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) technology. MICR employs a special type of magnetic ink that is typically used on checks and other documents to allow them to be automatically sorted and the characters to be read and fed into a computer.
The technology was first introduced in the 1950's, when Bank of America started using MICR techniques to improve their check processing capabilities. According to William Serrin, "Machine-readable numbers began appearing on checks the number of a check and of the bank account as well as the bank's routing number. Reader-sorter machines were developed, and checks could be handled more quickly and by fewer workers. Productivity increased, costs were reduced" (p. 50). The MICR is comprised of two distinct components, the character set that is used and the type of ink. In his essay, "Check Imaging: Banks Are Getting the Picture," Mark Arend predicted in 1992 that, "Banks that believed in imaging's potential all along are being rewarded now, because they are among the first to see significant reductions in check processing costs. Image-based systems, which reduce the physical handling of paper checks, are now becoming commercially available, and in time, they are likely to redefine check processing" (p. 44). This prediction has certain proved accurate, and today MICR applications abound.
Optical Mark Recognition. Optical mark recognition (OMR) applications represent one of the earliest efforts at automated data capture and have typically been used in academic and other settings where standard responses are recorded; for example, where students mark their tests "using a number two pencil only" (Tansey, 2002, p. 148).
Current Technology. In the 1980s, many companies had started using statistical process control (SPC) techniques as part of the broader Total Quality Management (TQM) practices that were becoming common practice in most manufacturing industries. According to Cortada (2004), "These kinds of data provided automated systems with early warning of out-of-control situations. By the end of the century, all [manufacturing companies] had engineering databases, bar codes, magnetic cards, and sensors to track inventories. They had very effective software to provide in-line yield analysis by deploying digital image-processing and laser-scanning machines to inspect chips and wafers in various stages of fabrication" (p. 37). Further innovations in design and manufacturing instructions have resulted in computers-assisted techniques that are used to improve data capture and processing methods across the board. These innovations include bar codes, radio frequency identification
Bar Codes. According to "Bar Coding Basics" (2005), "Bar codes are a fast, easy and accurate data entry method used in the process known as automatic data collection. Bar coding enables products to be tracked efficiently and accurately at speeds not possible using manual data entry systems" (p. 1). The key advantages of using bar codes is the same as those discussed previously and involve the automated collection of data that was previously accomplished manually. Bar Coding Basic points out that the "primary benefit of this process is that it is truly automatic, occurring instantaneously as a transaction or process takes place, commonly referred to as real-time data capture and exchange within the industry. Improved accuracy is yet another benefit" (p. 2). Research has shown that the entry and read error rates are reduced dramatically when using such automated data collection systems (approximately 1 error in 1 million characters versus 1 error for every 300 characters in manual key entry) (Bar Coding Basics, 2005). Tansey notes that the width of each line on a bar code can be read by a laser reader attached to a computerized cash register as a number that provides a code for each product. "The obvious advantage of the system is quicker work by cash register operators," he says, "reducing labor costs and/or customer waiting times. In addition more labor is saved by no longer having to use in-store labor to attach price labels to each product" (p. 147). Flexibility in pricing merchandise is also achieved because the system translates a product code into a price, rather than printing a price on the good at the factory or packing station. While early users of bar codes were able to achieve some competitive advantage through the practice, the technology is so commonplace today that companies must use it just to remain competitive (Tansey, 2002). Bar coding systems can also be used both to analyze and improve sales performance and strategies as well as providing managers with the ability to organize a daily delivery system. According to Duffner, "Laser bar code scanners not only speed up customers moving through checkout lines, but also allow the store owner to keep accurate track of the inventory to determine which products are selling well. The Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio, was the first to install and use laser bar code scanners in 1974" (1997:318). At the commercial level, small helium-neon lasers have progressed to the point where they are able to accurately read the bar codes on grocery items at the supermarket checkout counter in a fraction of a second, with the price of the item being displayed instantly on the cash register (Duffner 1997:3).
The historians report that the enormous popularity of the IBM PC in the early 1980s fueled the rapid growth of bar coding applications for automatic data collection. "Over the past 20 years," they say, "bar coding has become a virtual necessity for the collection and processing of information in a quick and timely manner enabling companies, in every conceivable industry, to maximize and dramatically increase their productivity and overall efficiency" (Bar Coding Basics, 2005, p. 3). Bar codes also allow companies to track information and activity as it takes place in real-time circumstances, thereby providing managers with the ability to base their decisions on timely data rather than dated information. Companies such as UPS and FedEx are using hand-held bar code scanners in the field to collect real-time delivery information today (pers. obs.).
RFID. Radio frequency identification (RFID) techniques are also becoming increasingly commonplace in a wide range of industry today. One alternative that uses RFID that is now available in almost every major retail store is electronic article surveillance (EAS). According to Longmore-Etheridge (1998), "The technology, how and when it is applied, and what it can do for retailers continues to evolve. A major issue with regard to EAS tags is when they will be attached to the product and by whom: will it be at the retail store itself, taking the time of store employees, or at the manufacturing stage, referred to as source tagging. Given the benefits of the latter, source tagging has steadily gained momentum in the industry since its tentative beginnings in 1993" (p. 44). This author cites as an example, an electronics store could use an RFID to provide potential customers with related video-provided information on the different available models of a television set, computer and so forth; likewise, at a cosmetics counter, an RFID tag could trigger a video to start showing the other colors in a lipstick line or providing information about the cosmetic's hypoallergenic status (Longmore-Etheridge, 1998). "All of these business bonuses to what began as a security device," this author says, "should help EAS prove its worth. And that should help loss prevention specialists sell their protection program to retail management" (Longmore-Etheridge, p. 45). Active tags used in RFID applications are battery-powered; by contrast, passive tags do not contain a radio transmitter and can be either battery- or non-battery-powered
Mercedes-Benz began offering a service known as TeleAid for all its model-year 2000 S-Class sedans marketed in North America that also uses RFID technologies (Barnes, 1999). A Motorola-provided GPS receiver now allows drivers to receive road or other types of assistance using an "SOS"…