infoTECH Feature

October 26, 2021

The Evolution of ID Scanners: From Classic Identifying to AI

Identity documents have been around since 1414 but were little used until the early 20th century.

Electronic code reading had its embryonic beginnings, like barcodes, in 1949, though barcodes were first used in grocery stores in 1974.

Development picked up a quicker pace after that. Gradually, from then until now, ID cards have evolved to include biometric information such as fingerprints and face, hand, or iris measurements.

Various countries have issued electronic ID cards since about 1999. Their complexity and the amount of information contained in their coding continue to evolve. Naturally, the devices that read them have evolved with them.

A key piece of the technology of ID scanning is OCR or Optical Character Recognition, which has a history beginning in 1914.

Laser development was also an important element in electronic code-reading, especially barcodes. The minute differences in line width require that a very bright light be used to read them. QR codes, a type of barcodes, are used in some documents as well.

Since Adaptive Recognition offered its first document scanner in 2000, the company has emerged as a leader in ID scanners and their enhancements, along with their eminence in ALPR (Automatic License Plate Recognition) cameras.

In this article, we’ll explore these developments in more depth.

Early History of ID Documents

The recorded history of using identity documents is more than 600 years long. In the year 1414. King Henry V of England issued the first known identity document, a passport.

From then until 1915, few people carried or needed any sort of ID document. In that year, Australia and Great Britain introduced the requirement for a passport that included a photo of its holder. Although photographic identification first appeared in 1876, it was little used until the early 20th century, when photos were gradually introduced as part of passports, drivers’ licenses, etc.

In 1985 the shape and size of ID cards were standardized by a joint directive from the ISO and IEC (News - Alert). This development would prove very helpful to electronic ID scanners.

Use of ID Documents

The Lody spy scandal in 1915 prompted Great Britain and Australia to implement the requirement for photographic passports.

Since it would be decades from then until the first OCR-enabled ID scanners, these passports were scanned with the human eye. Since a person could look very different with or without a beard, glasses, long or short hair, etc., many misidentifications probably resulted. Electronic document scanners would later clear up any identity confusion.

Outside the British Empire, people continued to move about and do business without the need to prove their identities.

In much of the world, international travel was difficult and expensive. With few exceptions, only the wealthy had the time, resources and inclination to undertake it.

Barcode Development

After 1915, the next major development toward electronic document scanners was barcode reading. Though that concept was first hatched In 1947 in the minds of Bernard Silver and Joe Woodland, it would be 27 years until a Cincinnati, OH Kroger grocery store first used it commercially in 1974.

Kroger management had pleaded with Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia to find a quicker way to check out supermarket patrons. The DIT dean dismissed the idea, but a junior postgraduate named Bernard Silver overheard the conversation and was intrigued. He mentioned it to Woodland, who had recently graduated from DIT. They filed a patent in 1949, and the barcode idea began its long journey to fruition.

Barcodes would, of course, find many other applications besides store checkouts. Barcodes are a key piece of the ID scanner development story.

While the original barcodes were in a bulls-eye pattern, experimentation by George Laurer found that the linear barcodes now so familiar were easier to read.

Laser development in the late 1960s and early 1970s was critical to reading the barcodes. It took a few years for laser prices to become affordable.

QR codes, closely related to barcodes, have also come into wide acceptance. They can be read by electronic document scanners, as well as smartphone cameras. In today's COVID-19-sensitive world, nearly every restaurant has a QR- coded menu. Any internet URL can be linked to a QR code.

OCR (Optical Character Recognition) Development

The next technological step in developing ID scanners was widely usable OCR capability. It too had its beginnings long before it became a generally available tool.

In 1914, Emmanuel Goldberg developed a machine that could read text letter-by-letter and convert it into Morse Code for telegraphing. The capability was enhanced through the middle of the 20th century. Initially, OCR was used mostly for converting older documents such as typed contracts into electronic files.

Until personal computers found their place on most desks in the 1990s, and OCR could be used without complex software, it was obscure technology.

OCR is a critical piece in the development of ID scanners. The ability to convert written text into machine-readable and human-readable electronic code is a key component of all kinds of document scanners.

To summarize, ID scanning has a long and spotty history and has become a widely available technology only in the first two decades of the 21st century. Its development depended on several other lines of technological advances, such as lasers and OCR capability. Digital photography is also important in many types of document reading and interpretation.

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is an important part of modern scanners’ flexibility and secure verification processes.

To learn more about Adaptive Recognition’s line of versatile ID scanners, passport readers, and related technology, check out their website. Each page has a contact button where you can talk with their experts in scanning technology about your application.


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