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Laserabtaster zum Lesen von zweidimensionalen Strichkoden - Dokument EP0384955
 
PatentDe  


Dokumentenidentifikation EP0384955 18.12.1997
EP-Veröffentlichungsnummer 0384955
Titel Laserabtaster zum Lesen von zweidimensionalen Strichkoden
Anmelder Symbol Technologies, Inc., Bohemia, N.Y., US
Erfinder Swartz, Jerome, Setauket, NY 11733, US;
Metlitsky, Boris, Stony Brook NY 11790, US
Vertreter derzeit kein Vertreter bestellt
DE-Aktenzeichen 68928443
Vertragsstaaten DE, FR, GB, IT
Sprache des Dokument En
EP-Anmeldetag 05.09.1989
EP-Aktenzeichen 891163933
EP-Offenlegungsdatum 05.09.1990
EP date of grant 12.11.1997
Veröffentlichungstag im Patentblatt 18.12.1997
IPC-Hauptklasse G06K 7/10

Beschreibung[en]
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION 1. Field of the Invention

This invention generally relates to laser scanning systems for reading bar code symbols or similar indicia and, more particularly, to a laser imaging system for generating a laser beam scan pattern which extends in a two dimensional pattern over the symbols to be read, and a digital processing system for storing, manipulating, and analyzing the scanned image.

2. Description of the Related Art

Various optical readers and optical scanning systems have been developed heretofore for reading bar code symbols appearing on a label or on the surface of an article. The bar code symbol itself is a coded pattern of indicia comprised of a series of bars of various widths spaced apart from one another to bound spaces of various widths, the bars and spaces having different light-reflecting characteristics. A number of different bar code standards or symbologies exist. These symbologies include UPC/EAN, Code 128, Codabar, and Interleaved 2 of 5. The readers and scanning systems electro-optically decode the symbol to multiple alphanumerical characters that are intended to be descriptive of the article or some characteristic thereof. Such characters are typically represented in digital form as an input to a data processing system for applications in point-of-sale processing, inventory control, and the like.

A kown scanning system resides, inter alia, in emitting a laser light beam from a hand-held, portable laser scanning head supported by a user, and aiming the head, and more particularly, the laser light beam, at a symbol to be read. The scanner functions by repetitively scanning the laser beam in a line across the symbol. A portion of the reflected laser light which is reflected off the symbol is detected, and electronic circuitry or software decodes the electrical signal into a digital representation of the data represented by the symbol scanned.

More specifically, a scanner includes a light source such as a gas laser or semiconductor laser that generates a light beam. The use of semiconductor devices as the light source in scanner systems is especially desirable because of their small size, low cost and low power requirements. The light beam is optically modified, typically by a lens, to form a beam spot of a certain size. It is preferred that the beam spot size be approximately the same as the minimum width between regions of different light reflectivity, i.e., the bars and spaces of the symbol. The relative size of the bars and spaces is determined by the type of coding used, as is the actual size of the bars and spaces. The number of characters per inch represented by the bar code symbol is referred to as the density of the symbol.

The light beam is directed by the lens or similar optical components along a light path toward a target that includes a bar code symbol on the surface. A scanning component is also disposed in the light path. The scanning component may either sweep the beam spot across the symbol and trace a scan line across and past the symbol, or scan the field of view of the scanner or do both. A scanner also includes a sensor or photodetector. The photodetector has a field of view which extends across and slightly past the symbol and functions to detect light reflected from the symbol. The analog electrical signal from the photodetector is first typically converted into a pulse width modulated digital signal, with the widths corresponding to the physical widths of the bars and spaces. Such a signal is then decoded according to the specific symbology into a binary representation of the data encoded in the symbol, and to the alphanumeric characters so represented.

Laser scanners are not the only type of optical instrument capable of reading bar code symbols. Another type of optical reader is one which is operative being placed by the user in direct contact with the symbol to be read. Such readers typically incorporate detectors based upon charge coupled device (CCD) technology in which the size of the detector is larger than or substantially the same as the symbol to be read. Such scanners are lightweight and easy to use, but require substantially direct contact or placement of the reader on the symbol to enable the symbol be read. Such contact reading is a preferred mode of operation for some applications or as a matter of personal preference by the user. Contact or near contact reading may also be implemented in an appropriately designed laser scanner.

With respect to the scanning pattern generated by laser scanners, it has previously been known to generate scan patterns of mutually parallel scan lines extending along one or two directions, especially for fixed, stationary, or table-top type scanners. Omni-directional scan patterns of intersecting scan lines, and even curvilinear scan patterns, for superposition over the symbol to be read, are known in the prior art. The purpose of such scanning patterns is to insure that, no matter what the angular orientation of a symbol might be, within predetermined limits, at least one of the scan lines or part of the pattern will be scanned over the entire length of the respective symbol. A drawback of such an approach is that such patterns are typically generated by highly complex and expensive optical and mechanical systems.

EP-A-273 554 describes a handheld laser scanner that generates a scan pattern of mutually parallel scan lines extending linearly across each symbol. The scan lines are arranged over the height of the symbol. At least one of the scan lines sweeps across each symbol along one sweep direction, whereas, at least another of the scan lines sweeps across each symbol along an opposite sweep direction countercurrent to said one sweep direction, thereby forming a bidirectional scan in which a respective symbol can be read by a scan line no matter whether.the symbol is oriented in the correct left-right direction, or is upside down.

In either hand-held or stationary scanners, with the scan being generated by mechanically oscillating or moving a light source or a mirror, the direction of each scan is fixed relative to the reader housing. If there is only one scan line, and the bar code symbol is located at an angle to this linear scan of the laser beam, then the user of a hand-held unit must twist the unit to align it with the angle of the bar code. Or, the operator of a stationary unit must twist the product to retry, hoping to align the symbol with one of the several scan lines. When a hand-held reader unit is being used at a retail check-out counter, the objects having bar codes to be read will be randomly oriented, and the items will be of many different sizes and shapes. Properly positioning the hand-held reader unit for reading bar codes thus becomes an awkward task. On the other hand, scanners generating several scan paths at angles to one another still often require the operator to try several passes of the product until a valid read is obtained. Multiple-scan readers produce only a few fixed paths for scan lines, and if none of the paths are correct the operator must make additional passes until a code-recognition signal is produced.

In order to provide more information in the bar code symbols, and to allow the symbols to be smaller or more compactly shaped, new bar code standards have been adopted. One of these new code standards, Code-49, uses a more complex but efficient character set, and also introduces a "two-dimensional" feature so more data is contained in the symbol; this is accomplished by stacking rows of characters vertically instead of extending the bars horizontally. That is, there may be two or more rows of bar and space patterns up to eight, instead of only one row.

U.S. Patent No. 4,794,239 is describing such a bar code structure. A one-dimensional single-line scan, as ordinarily the case for hand-held readers, where the laser beam is swept back and forth across a narrow arc, has disadvantages in reading these two dimensional bar codes; that is, the reader must be aimed at each row, individually. Likewise, the multiple-scan-line readers produce a number of scan lines at an angle to one another so these are not suitable for recognizing Code-49 type of two-dimensional symbols.

With respect to the prior art further attention is drawn to US-Patent 4,124,797 which discloses an apparatus and method for reading randomly oriented characters by focusing a laser onto indicia located on a written medium. Scanned light reflected from the written medium having the indicia thereon is received by a photomultiplier detector. A processor receiving the output of the photomultiplier detector determines the observed orientation of the indicia generating a signal which causes a beam rotating means to scan the indicia in a known sequence having the desired orientation with respect to the indicia. Thereby characters that are to be read and located adjacent to the indicia can be scanned at the same orientation of the beam rotating means.

US-Patent 4,776,464 discloses an article handling system, particularly for baggage routing by processing a video image of a target in order to transform the video image to a desired orientation and configuration. Thereby the target symbol can be detected and electronically read.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates to a method of reading a bar code symbol as referred to in claim 1 and to an apparatus of reading bar code symbols as referred to in claim 1, respectively.

This invention generates scan patterns of mutually parallel lines over the bar codes to be read and processes these patterns in order to change the angular orientation of the mutually parallel scan lines to align with the reading direction of the bar code.

Preferred embodiments are disclosed in the dependent claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING

  • Fig. 1 is a perspective view of a hand-held laser scanner including a scan pattern generator, and diagrammatically illustrates a multiple scan pattern;
  • Fig. 2a is a diagrammatic illustration of a first scan pattern with the Dove prism in a first position;
  • Fig. 2b is a diagrammatic illustration of a second scan pattern with the Dove prism in a second position;
  • Fig. 2c is a diagrammatic illustration of a third scan pattern with the Dove prism in a third position;
  • Fig. 3 is a highly simplified block diagram of the image storage and processing circuitry used in the laser scanner according to the present invention;
  • Fig. 4a is a simplified diagrammatic illustration of operation showing a single scan line passing through a two-dimensional bar code;
  • Fig. 4b is a simplified diagrammatic illustration of the single scan passing through the two dimensional bar code at a second stage of operation;
  • Fig. 4c is a simplified diagrammatic illustration of a single scan passing through a two-dimensional bar code at a third stage of operation;
  • Fig. 4d is a diagrammatic illustration of the multiple scan pattern passing through a two-dimensional code at an angle which enables the bar code to be read;
  • Fig. 5 is an enlarged view of one row of a truncated bar code symbol to illustrate its component parts;
  • Fig. 6 is an enlarged view of a UPC bar code symbol with a scan line at an oblique angle passing through the entire symbol; and
  • Fig. 7 is a schematic representation of a bit-mapped image of a two-dimensional bar code symbol in a memory array in the system of Figures 1 and 3.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Referring now to the drawings, reference numeral 10 in FIG. 1 generally identifies an optical arrangement in a laser scanning system of the type generally known for reading symbols, particularly bar code symbols.

The arrangement 10 includes a housing 12, shown in dashed lines, and intended to represent a hand-held scanner. The arrangement 10 may also be implemented in a desk-top workstation or stationary scanner. In the preferred embodiment, the housing includes an exit port 14 through which an outgoing laser light beam is directed to impinge on, and to be scanned across, symbols located exteriorly of the housing. A manually actuated trigger 110 or similar means are provided to initiate scanning so that each symbol may be scanned and read in its respective turn. A laser source, e.g. a gas laser tube 16 or a semiconductor laser diode, is mounted in the housing and, when energized, the source 16 generates a laser beam.

A multiple line scan pattern generator 120 is illustrated in FIG. 1 and is operative for generating multiple scan lines or traces shown as 150, 152, etc. across a symbol to be read in a scan line pattern 144. The scan pattern generator 120 also functions for positioning at least some of the scan lines at different working distances from the housing 12 in which the generator 120 is housed.

Laser source 16 directs a laser beam through optical lens 122 for directing the beam onto rotary main mirror 124 which is mounted on a vertical shaft 126 which is rotated by a motor drive 128 about a vertical axis. Mirror 124 has opposite major planar surfaces which are separated by a mirror thickness having dimension T3. A light-reflecting coating is applied over one of the surfaces.

The generator 120 also includes a pair of stationary first surface side mirrors 136, 138 inclined at angles relative to the vertical axis of the shaft 126, and also including an angle with each other. Side mirrors 136, 138 have front surfaces on which light-reflecting coatings are respectively applied. Inclined side mirrors 136, 138 are so positioned relative to main mirror 124 that, during rotation of mirror 124, laser light impinging on mirror 124 will, at certain times, during each revolution of mirror 124, be directed toward one of the side mirrors for reflection therefrom forwardly to the exterior target.

To produce scan lines vertically spaced from one another, the motor 128 and mirror 124 are rotated about a horizontal axis parallel to the scan line 150, using a stepper motor.

The multiple scan line pattern 144 depicted in FIG. 1 is generated as follcws: Assume that mirror 124 is initially positioned with its coated surface directly facing laser source 16. The laser beam emitted by source 16 is returned along the same optical path for impingement on a symbol located at a first distance from the housing 12. During rotation of mirror 124, scan line 150 is generated. Eventually, the mirror 124 will direct the laser beam incident thereon to side mirror 136 for reflection by coated surface 140 forwardly for impingement on a symbol located at a second distance. Which is shorter that the first distance due to the diversion of the beam to side mirror 136. During rotation of mirror 124 scan line 152 is generated. Scan line 152 is swept in the opposite direction to that of scan line 150. A more detailed description of the operation of the optical arrangement 10 is set forth in EP-A-273 554.

As best shown in Fig. 1, it will be noted that the scan pattern 144 comprises a plurality of scan lines in mutual parallelism, with scan lines 150, and 156 swept from right to left, and scan lines 152, 154, 158 and 160 swept from left to right. All the scan lines are spread apart over the height of the symbol. This spread can be controlled by, and is a function of, the thickness of mirror 124, the angle 0 of incidence of the laser beam on mirror 124, and the index of refraction n' of mirror 124, the latter being preferably constituted of glass. Also, the beam spot is focused and alternately located at either of the two working distances mentioned above, thereby obtaining a zooming function.

Also, quite apart from the angular orientation of the symbols to be read, one symbol might be located close-in to the scanner, whereas another symbol might be located far-out from the scanner and, in short, successive symbols may be located at different working distances from the scanner, In the case of a scanner which has been designed to read symbols within a certain range of working distances, should it occur that a particular symbol falls outside this range, then the distance between the scanner and the symbol must be adjusted, and usually within a short time interval, for, otherwise, the symbol will not be read. In the case of a hand-held scanner, the scanner is usually manually moved toward or away from the symbol to adjust the distance between the scanner and the symbol.

In one preferred embodiment, before passing out the exit port 14, the laser beam passes through another optical component such as a Dove prism 143. The Dove prism 143 is a trapezoidal shaped prism that, when rotated along the axis of the light beam passing through the prism, will rotate the image.

In Fig. 1, the Dove prism 143 is not drawn to the same scale as the motor 128 or mirrors 124, 136, 138. In reality, the Dove prism 143 must be large enough to intercept all the light from the mirrors 124, 136, or 138, i.e., more of the order of the size of the window 14. The representation of the Dove prism 143 is diagrammatic only and is done solely to clearly represent the configuration of optical elements. In order to rotate the Dove prism, stepper motor 145 is provided in the housing 12. The motor 145 is provided with a drive gear 146 on the motor shaft which engages a corresponding gear on the circumferential periphery of the prism 143, as is shown in diagrammatic form in Figure 1. The motor 145 is used to rotate the prism 143 by a specific angle so that, the scan line pattern 144 is correspondingly rotated to a predetermined angle with respect to the original direction of scan.

In operation, the prism 143 is initially in its 0° position, and the scan line pattern 144 is in whatever position the prism is in (but rotated 180°, which is of no consequence to the digital pattern recognition circuitry and algorithm which will subsequently be described). This image in the field of view of the photodetector 140 is transferred to various electronic components 142 implemented on a printed circuit board 141 contained in the housing 12.

In a preferred embodiment the digital representation is applied to a decoder (not shown) which translates the encoded representation into alphanumeric characters represented by the symbol. The decoder may be located externally of the housing 12, and thus is not shown in Figure 1 for simplicity. The decoder may typically consist of a CPU 35 (as shown in Fig. 3), together with appropriate software stored in a ROM 36. The CPU 35 and ROM 36 are connected to an I/O controller 38.

Referring more specifically to Figure 3, in the preferred embodiment the output from the photodetector 140 is directly applied to a DRAM-type memory 20 via the line 15' which is used to store the digital output from the photodetector 140 while it is analyzed by the decoder. The CPU 35 or equivalent electron circuitry begins an analysis of the raster type scan of the field of view looking for recognizable bar code characters. If no legitimate bar code patterns are recognized after one complete raster scan pattern 144, a "miss" signal is generated by the decoder and applied to a motor controller 39. The motor controller 39 drives the electric stepper motor 145 to produce a preselected amount of rotation of the prism 143, e.g. 15°, for a second try at recognizing a bar code. The photodetector array 140 captures the new image at the rotated position, the decoder makes another attempt to decode. This continues until either code recognition is accomplished or the prism 143 has been rotated 90°, in which case the failure to activate decode indicator signals to the user to reposition the product or the scanner. In this manner, five tries at 9° steps, for example, or nine tries at 5° steps, would probably be sufficient. If the entire contents of memory 20 are first transferred to memory 36 for evaluation by the CPU, instead of waiting until the CPU has completed a full evaluation of the contents of memory 20 (by accessing the memory 20 itself) looking for recognizable bar code patterns, the motor control 39 may be activated by the CPU 35 to cause the prism to rotate as soon as the photodetector 140 has been read out to the memory 20, so another try is begun before failure of the first try has been determined.

Figure 2a through 2c illustrates the rotation of the scan line pattern 144 as the Dove prism 143 is rotated. Figure 2a illustrates the original position of the scan line pattern 144 prior to the rotation, Figure 2b depicts the scan line pattern 144 after rotation of the Dove prism through a first angle, and Figure 2c depicts the scan line pattern 144 after rotation through a second angle greater than the first angle.

Turning next to Figure 3, there is shown a highly simplified block diagram of the electronic subsystems of the bar code reader according to an embodiment which does not fall under the scope of protection of the attached claims. In this embodiment, the line 15' is not present in the circuit of Figure 3, and the Dove prism 143, and motor controller 39 are not used to rotate the image. Instead, the image captured by the photodetector 140 is rotated electronically, or analyzed electronically, in the DRAM 20.

As illustrated in Figure 3, the photodetector 140 receives the reflected light and is used to generate an electrical image of the field of view of the photodetector. The output of the photodetector 140 is preferably a serial binary signal. However, if a gray-scale type of resolution is needed, then an analog signal output from the photodetector 140 may be used, which is digitized or applied to an analog to digital converter 15 to produce a multi-bit binary representation of the light reaching the photodetector 140 as the laser beam is scanned throughout the scan pattern 144. A serial single-bit, or multi-bit parallel binary output of the A/D converter, represents the light impinging upon the photodetector.

The field of view of the photodetector 140 over an entire scan pattern may be represented as a large predetermined number of elements or pixels arranged in rows and columns. As each line is scanned,the photodetector 140 produces a single-bit serial binary output, or the A/D converter 15 converts the analog signal into a multi-bit digital representation, one pixel at a time. Assuming single-bit serial binary, the digital representation from the photodetector 140 is shifted into a serial input 27 of the DRAM 20; however, if a multi-bit representation is used, it is loaded into a shift register 24, one group of elements at a time, by clock voltages applied to the register elements by clock lines 26. The shift register 24 is clocked onto the line 21 by clock line 26.

As an example of the type of scanning that may be performed with the laser scanner the following parameters may be presented as typical. A total of 50 to 100 lines or more, such as the lines 150, 152, etc., of Fig. 2a, may be generated to form the scan pattern 144 with 5.08 cm (2") scan lines over a target area of 1.27 cm or 2.54 cm (1/2" or 1"). Each horizontal line 150, 152, etc. corresponds to one row in the array of the memory 20, so the size of the memory is correlated with the drive mechanism for the mirror 124 producing the raster scan of the field of view. The laser beam will operate at a 3.1 to 6.1 meter per second (10 to 20 fps = feet per second) sweep speed, with the laser spot moving at about 63.5 meter per second (2500 ips = inch per second). The bar code density may be 48x10-6 to 64x10-6 cm2 (7.5 to 10 mil square) for reasonable resolution characteristics. The bandwidth represented by such scanning is well within the capability of various commercially available signal processors and decoders.

The field of view scanned by the laser scanner may be divided into an array of for example, 256 x 256, 512 x 512, or 1024 x 1024, depending upon the scan generating mechanism. Using 1024 x 1024, there would be 1024 rows of "pixels" and 1024 "pixels" in each row (1024 columns). The density of the raster scan of the field of view by the laser beam, and thus of the memory 20, is selected according to the resolution required for the system, and may be more or less than these examples. However, continuing with the example of 1024 x 1024, note that the memory 20 is also a 1024 x 1024 array. For example, a 1-M bit DRAM of the type commercially available may be provided having both serial and random-access I/O ports.

The clocks used to load the DRAM 20 via serial input 27, and the addressing of the DRAM 20 to load data from its serial input register to its cell array, must both be correlated with the mechanical scan generator; every time a horizontal line such as 150 or 152 is finished, the data for this line should have filled the internal register and be shifted to the cell array.

The DRAM 20 has an array of dynamic memory cells in rows and columns having a one-for-one correspondence to the pixel array to be imaged, so there are 1024 rows and 1024 columns of cells. So, after 1024 clock pulses on the input 26, the internal shift register at its serial input is full, and one clock on its "transfer" input loads this 1024 bits of data onto the 1024 column lines of the DRAM array; then, one of the 1024 row lines of the array is activated by a row decoder to load this 1024 bits of data to one of the rows of memory cells of the array, where they will remain stored until written over. The sequence then repeats for the next subsequent scan of the reference plane by the laser scanner; another 1024 bits are shifted into the internal shift register of the DRAM, so, after 1024 x 1024 clocks on line 26, all 1M-bit of data from the photodetector 140 will have been transferred to the DRAM 20. The detected light representing a sequence of picture elements derivated from a scan of the field of view by the photoresponsive device 140 are thus transformed into electrical charge packets which are transferred in a bit-mapped manner into the memory 20, one-for-one, in corresponding locations.

The bit-mapped image in the memory 20 is accessed by a CPU device 35 of Figure 3. An external memory 36 may be employed for storing programs and data. A system bus 37 includes an address bus 37a, a data bus 37b and a control bus 37c: the bus is used for accessing the memory 36, and of course for accessing the DRAM 20, as well as for accessing an I/O controller (or controllers) 38 for communicating with a keyboard input, a display, or data output to a host computer, or the like, or to send a control signal to the optical component.

The DRAM 20 has a data I/O port connected to the data bus 37b for accessing the bit-mapped data by the CPU. The DRAM 20 can have a 4-bit wide data I/O port, so four bits are accessed in parallel at one time, instead of 1-bit. The DRAM 20 has a multiplexed address input connected to address bus 37a: a row address is applied first, along with a row address strobe on the control bus 37c, then a column address is applied along with a column address strobe.

These addresses are loaded into internal address buffers for the row and column decoders in the video DRAM 20. Thus, an address is applied to the row decoder from the CPU to make a 1-of-1024 selection for loading the serial data input 27 to one of the 1024 rows of the DRAM cells. Or, an address is applied to the row decoder to select a row for input to the DRAM column decoder, then a 6-bit address applied to the column decoder from the CPU to select 4-or 256 columns for output on the data bus 37b to the CPU 35. In this manner, the CPU accesses the bit-mapped image data in the memory 20 to scan the image of the field of view, to find the symbol. A test is done to determine whether a portion of a bar code has been detected, based upon the symbology or definition of the bar code itself. If an entire bar code has been detected, it will then be decoded.

The CPU 35 can access the DRAM 20 via data bus 37b and address bus 37b at the same time that the serial data is being clocked into the serial port 27 by clock 26, so the CPU can begin evaluating the image to find and orient the symbol before the entire image has been loaded. The time needed to transfer the bit-mapped image is about (1M)x(50ns) or 50-ms, assuming a 20MHz clock 26, but during this time the CPU can make many thousands of accesses of the data in the DRAM for evaluation. If higher speeds are required, some video DRAMs support much higher serial clock rates, e.g., 40-MHZ. Also, a "by-4" serial input is available, which would allow four serial bit streams to be clocked in simultaneously. In addition, if a static RAM is used instead of a DRAM 20, clock speeds can be faster; a serial-to-parallel converter using a high-speed 8-bit shift register can be used to input the data from the CCD to a static RAM having an 8-bit parallel data I/O port.

Figure 4a - 4d shows an example of a bar code symbol of the type to be read by the system of Figures 1 and 3. Although the system is suitable for reading various types of bar codes, this symbol is a code-49 type, naving (in this example) five rows 48 of characters represented by bar and space patterns. The physical size of this symbol is variable; the lower limit is specified to be 1.9 x 10-2 cm (7.5 mil) for the "X" dimension, i.e., the width of a minimum-width line in one of the bars in one of the rows 48; the upper limit depends upon the method used to reproduce the symbols, the focal length and field of view of the optical system to be used, and of course the size of the objects to which the coded symbols are to be applied. Using minimum sized symbols, a net data density of 36.7 (93.3) alphanumeric characters per cm (inch) or 60.7 (154.3) numeric digits per (inch) can be achieved with this standard code. The Code-49 specification allows up to eight rows 48 in one symbol. The view of Figure 4 is much larger than actual size for many Code-49 type symbols printed for use in typical applications. Each row will always begin with a start pattern 49 and end with a stop pattern 50. Between the start and stop patterns, a number of words 51 are defined by the width and spacings of black lines and gaps; each word encodes two characters from a defined character set. The image bit-mapped into the memory 20 of course corresponds to the black and white pattern of Figure 4 or 5 translated to binary ones and zeros. The optics, size of field of view, number of bits (resolution) of the photo-responsive device 140, etc., are all chosen so that the minimum line width in the patterns of Figures 4 and 5, when translated to a bit-mapped image in the memory 20, produces at least one bit or one cell of data in the DRAM 20. For the example of the use of a 256x256 (64K-bit) memory 20, the pattern of Figure 5 must occupy at least about 75-bits of the 256-bit width of a row of the memory array.

Referring to Figure 4a, a scan along a line 53 would intercept parts of more than one row 48 and so would produce a reading which would indicate the presence of a bar code, but will not correctly decode. This is in contrast to a more-conventional UPC type of bar code symbol as seen in Figure 6, where a scan line 54 at an angle to the central axis will still produce a valid reading since the UPC symbol illustrated is not truncated but extends in the Y-direction. Addition of the multiple rows 48 in the Code-49 type of symbol seen in Figure 4 thus makes the scanning task more difficult. Nevertheless, even though not giving a valid reading of an entire row 48, the scan line 53 would still result in a valid decode of a part of a row. For example, the line 53 as it appears in Figure 4a or 4b makes a complete trace of some words in a horizontal row, but not of all words. This ability to intercept and interpret partial rows may be employed in the task of "finding" the symbol within the image in the memory 20 by the algorithm executed by the CPU 35.

Another complicating factor is that the image of the bar code symbol in the memory 20 is not necessarily rectangular; this is in addition to the image likely being at an angle to the major axis. The image is not necessarily rectangular because the package or object on which the symbol resides in the field of view may be twisted rather than being aligned with the plane of the field. This non-alignment will result in a distorted shape as seen in Figure 7, where the image of symbol bit-mapped into the cell array 55 of the memory 20 is at an angle to the rows of cells and also larger at one end than at the other. Five scan lines 56 must be generated, each at a slightly different angle. Note also that the image might be reversed from left to right if the package having the bar code symbol on it is upside down in the field of view, so the direction of scan can be left-to-right or right-to-left, or otherwise the data can be transposed after loading into the CPU 35.

The data in memory 20 can of course be read in any pattern, as selected by the program executed by the CPU 35. To scan the memory along one of the scan lines 56 of Figure 7, the row address loaded to the row decoder via bus 37a would be incremented after each read cycle, and the column address loaded to the column decoder would be decremented after a selected number of read cycles, depending upon the angle needed. The number of row address increments for every column address decrement would be higher for the upper lines 56 than for the lower ones in Figure 7, since the angle needed to trace the row 48 is greater.

Before the scan lines 56 of Figure 7 at the proper angles could be calculated, the symbol would have to be found in the memory array and the orientation of the rows 48 determined. Various algorithms could be used for this purpose; one would comprise reading the memory array in a raster scan, one row (or column) at a time, in rectilinear fashion, to see if recognizable bar code patterns are found. Such a raster scan of the image of Figure 7 would find a recognizable code pattern when it reached a position indicated by line 57, corresponding roughly to the 57' of Figure 5. There are various ways to detecting the existence of a bar code in a serial electrical signal representing a sequence of samples produced by a linear scan; for example, the number of transitions between black and white (1's and 0's) can be counted, and this value, as a function of the length of scan (or transitions per unit length) is a distinguishing factor. In this manner, the bar code pattern would be distinct from other printing on the product label such as text or numbers in the area intercepted by the scan line 57 of Figure 7. Another way of distinguishing a bar code pattern from other images is the ratio of black to white per unit length; bar code symbols fall into a range of such ratios different from printed text or alphanumeric characters found on product labels. Still another way of distinguishing is to compare two adjacent scans to see if the same sequence of 1's and 0's is produced over a substantial part of the row. In addition, of course, the patterns may be compared to valid code patterns stored in ROM in memory 36 by a table lookup. Using any one or combination of such methods, the symbol is found within the memory array by reading data and interpreting strings of this data read-out using instructions executed by the CPU 35 or equivalent logic circuitry. Then, when any part of the symbol has been located, the next task is to find the angular direction of rows. The first attempt is of course a rectilinear line, i.e., a continuation of the line 57 for the remainder of the row, without changing the column address; this will produce no more recognizable bar-code patterns, so a series of angular scans can be implemented, starting at the centerpoint of the addresses which produced the recognized code pattern, for example at 5° increments, producing a series of scan lines 57a, 57b, 57c, etc., until the top line 56 is scanned and a complete line of code is recognized including start and stop codes 49 and 50. If no complete recognizable row is found, but instead a set of partial row segments of increasing then decreasing number of recognizable characters, then the row is curved (resulting from a symbol on a curved surface such as a can or bottle) so the scan line will be switched to a different angle at the address of the end of the scan giving the most recognizable characters, producing a series of segments instead of a straight-line scan. In either event, after one row is recognized, then scans are made parallel to the good row until a different set of good characters is recognized, meaning a new row is being scanned. This continues until a complete symbol has been recognized. Usually, the symbol will contain within its characters information on the number of rows and the number of characters in the symbol, as well as a checksum or CRC of the characters, so a complete symbol can be positively identified by a suitable algorithm executed by the CPU 35. After reading the bit patterns found in the memory array, the CPU 35 can execute table-lookups to convert the bit patterns into characters. Many other algorithms for interpreting the image in the memory 20 and decoding the bar code symbol represented by this image using the instruction set of a commercially-available microprocessor 35 may be selected by a skilled programmer.

The concept of the invention may be implemented in a hand-held reader unit 10 as illustrated in Figure 1, as well as in a stationary unit. The hand-held device of Figure 1 is generally of the style disclosed in U.S. Patent 4,760,248 and also similar to the configuration of a bar code reader commercially available as model number LS 8100II from Symbol Technologies, Inc. Alternatively, or in addition, features of U.S. Patent 4,387,297 or U.S. Patent 4,409,470 may be employed in constructing the bar code reader 10 of Figure 1.

In all of the various embodiments, the elements of the scanner may be assembled into a very compact package that allows the scanner to be fabricated as a single printed circuit board or integral module. Such a module can interchangeably be used as the laser scanning element for a variety of different types of data acquisition systems. For example, the module may be alternately used in a hand-held scanner, a table top scanner attached to a flexible arm or mounting extending over the surface of the table or attached to the underside of the table top, or mounted as a subcomponent or subassembly of a more sophisticated data acquisition system.

The module would advantageously comprise a laser/optics subassembly mounted on a support, a scanning element such as a rotating or reciprocating mirror, and a photodetector component. Control or data lines associated with such components may be connected to an electrical connector mounted on the edge or external surface of the module to enable the module to be electrically connected to a mating connector associated with other elements of data acquisition system. Alternatively, a wireless connection, using RF or IR communications, may be used.

An individual module may have specific scanning characteristics associated with it, e.g. operability at a certain working distance, or operability with a certain density of symbols. The scanning characteristics may also be defined through the manual setting of control switches associated with the module. The user may also adapt the data acquisition system to scan different types of articles or the system may be adapted for different applications by simply interchanging modules.

The scanning module described above may also be implemented within a self-contained data acquisition system including one or more such components as keyboard, display, data storage, application software, and data bases. Such a system may also include a communications interface to permit the data acquisition system to communicate with other components of a local area network or with the telephone exchange network, either through a modem or an ISDN interface, or by low power radio broadcast from the portable terminal to a stationary receiver.


Anspruch[de]
  1. Verfahren zum Lesen eines Strichcode-Symbols, wobei die folgenden Schritte vorgesehen sind:
    • (a) Leiten eines Lichtstrahls in einem Abtastmuster über ein zu lesendes Symbol mit einem ersten Abtastwinkel;
    • (b) Detektieren von mindestens einem Teil des Lichtes variabler Intensität, welches von dem Symbol reflektiert wurde, und zwar über ein Gesichtsfeld und Erzeugen eines elektrischen Signals, welches eine Anzeige für die detektierte Lichtintensität bildet;
    • (c) Verarbeiten des erwähnten elektrischen Signals zur Erzeugung von digitalen Darstellungen der detektierten Lichtintensität;
    • (d) Übertragung der digitalen Darstellungen zu einer Speicheranordnung mit Zeilen und Spalten; und
    • (e) Lesen der Speicheranordnung in einer Folge oder Sequenz von linearen Richtungsmustern, bis eine Folge oder Sequenz der digitalen Repräsentationen mindestens einen Teil eines möglichen Strichcodes repräsentiert; und,

      wenn eine vollständige Zeile des möglichen Strichcode-Symbols nicht erkannt wird, Änderung der Abtastung des erwähnten Laserstrahls auf einen anderen Abtastwinkel und Fortsetzen der Leitung des Strahls in einem unterschiedlichen Abtastmuster über das Symbol, worauf dann die Schritte (b) - (e) wiederholt werden, bis ein vollständiges Bar- oder Strichcode-Symbol erkannt ist, und darauffolgendes
    • (f) Verarbeiten der Folge oder Sequenz von digitalen Darstellungen oder Repräsentationen, wodurch die in dem Symbol enthaltene Information bestimmt wird.
  2. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, wobei der Schritt des Leitens des Laserstrahls die Erzeugung eines Abtastmusters von gegenseitig parallelen Abtastlinien oder Zeilen umfaßt.
  3. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, wobei der Schritt des Lesens der Speicheranordnung das Adressieren der Zeilen und Spalten der Speicheranordnung umfaßt, und zwar in einer Folge oder Sequenz von Adressen, die eine lineare Traversion des Gesichtsfeldes darstellen.
  4. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, wobei das Symbol eine Vielzahl von Reihen oder Spalten von Strichen (Bars) und Räumen aufweist, und zwar in einer im wesentlichen rechtekkigen zweidimensionalen Anordnung, wobei die Orientierung des erwähnten Symbols durch die Richtung der Reihen oder Zeilen repräsentiert ist.
  5. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Laser- und Speicheranordnung in einer in der Hand zu haltenden Einheit enthalten ist, die einen von Hand betätigten Auslöser aufweist und wobei das Verfahren ferner den Schritt des manuellen Aktivierens des Auslösers durch den Benutzer aufweist, um den Schritt des Leitens oder Lenkens des Lichtstrahls einzuleiten.
  6. Vorrichtung zum Lesen von Bar- oder Strichcode-Symbolen, wobei folgendes vorgesehen ist:
    • (a) eine Lichtquelle zum Emittieren von Laserstrahls;
    • (b) eine optische, im Pfad des Strahls angeordnete Komponente zum optischen Modifizieren und Leiten des Laserstrahls entlang eines optischen Pfades zu einem Ziel oder Target hin, und zwar angeordnet in der Nähe einer Bezugsebene, die im optischen Pfad liegt, um so räumlich benachbarte Teile der Bezugsebene in einer ersten Abtastrichtung abzutasten;
    • (c) Sensormittel mit einem Gesichtsfeld und betreibbar zum Detektieren von mindestens einem Teil des Lichtes variabler Intensität, welches vom Ziel reflektiert wird, und zum Erzeugen eines elektrischen Signals, welches eine Anzeige für die detektierte Lichtintensität bildet;
    • (d) Mittel zum Verarbeiten des elektrischen Signals zur Bestimmung, ob das reflektierte Licht variabler Intensität eine räumliche Variation unterschiedlicher Licht-Reflektivität repräsentiert, die eine Anzeige für das Vorhandensein von mindestens einem ersten Teil eines vorbestimmten Strichcode-Symbols sein könnte, und zur Erzeugung eines Enabling- oder Einschaltsignals, welches anzeigt, daß eine weitere Abtastung in einer unterschiedlichen Abtastrichtung notwendig ist, wenn ein vollständiges Strichcode-Symbol nicht erkannt ist;
    • (e) Mittel zum Modifizieren der Richtung der Abtastung von der ersten Abtastrichtung zu einer weiteren Abtastrichtung ansprechend auf das Enabling-oder Einschaltsignal, um zu versuchen, ein vollständiges Strichcode-Symbol abzutasten.
  7. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 6, wobei die Mittel zum Modifizieren der Abtastrichtung ein Prisma aufweisen, und zwar angeordnet im Pfad des erwähnten Strahls.
  8. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 6 oder 7, wobei ferner Mittel vorgesehen sind, zum Umwandeln der elektrischen Signale in digitale Darstellung und Speichermittel zum Speichern der digitalen Darstellungen.
  9. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 8, wobei Mittel zum Zugriff zu den Speichermitteln vorgesehen sind, um Zeilen und Spalten einer Anordnung von Speicherzellen in einer Folge von Adressen zu adressieren, wobei die Adressen eine Rasterabtastung des Gesichtsfeldes mit einem vorbestimmten Winkel bezüglich der Achsen des Gesichtsfeldes repräsentieren.
  10. Vorrichtung nach einem der Ansprüche 6 bis 9, wobei die Mittel zur optischen Modifizierung und zur Leitung des Laserstrahls ein Abtastmuster von gegenseitig parallelen Abtastlinien erzeugt, wobei die Richtung dieser Linien oder Zeilen die Abtastrichtung ist.
  11. Vorrichtung nach einem der Ansprüche 6 bis 10, wobei die Laser- und Speichermittel in einer in der Hand zu haltenden Einheit enthalten sind, die einen manuell betätigten Auslöser aufweist.
Anspruch[en]
  1. A method of reading a bar code symbol comprising the steps of:
    • (a) directing a light beam from a laser in a scanning pattern over a symbol to be read at a first scanning angle;
    • (b) detecting at least a portion of light of variable intensity reflected off the symbol over a field of view and generating an electrical signal indicative of the detected light intensity;
    • (c) processing said electrical signal to produce digital representations of the detected light intensity;
    • (d) transferring said digital representations to a memory array having rows and columns; and
    • (e) reading said memory array in a sequence of linear directional patterns until a sequence of said digital representations represents at least a portion of a possible bar code; and if a complete line of the possible bar code symbol is not recognized, changing said scanning of said laser beam to another scanning angle and continuing to direct said beam in a different scanning pattern over said symbol, then repeating steps (b) - (e) until a complete bar code symbol is recognized, and thereafter
    • (f) processing said sequence of digital representations thereby determining the information contained in the symbol.
  2. A method as defined in claim 1, wherein said step of directing a laser beam includes generating a scan pattern of mutually parallel scan lines.
  3. A method as defined in claim 1, wherein said step of reading the memory array includes addressing the rows and columns of said memory array in a sequence of addresses that represents a linear traversal of the field of view.
  4. A method as defined in claim 1, wherein the symbol includes a plurality of rows of bar and spaces arranged in a substantially rectangular two-dimensional array, the orientation of said symbol being represented by the direction of the rows.
  5. A method as defined in claim 1 wherein the laser and memory array is contained in a hand-held unit which includes a manually-activated trigger, and the method further includes the step of manually activating said trigger by the user to initiate said step of directing said light beam.
  6. Apparatus for reading bar code symbols comprising:
    • (a) a light source for emitting a laser beam;
    • (b) an optical component disposed in the path of said beam for optically modifying and directing the laser beam along an optical path toward a target located in the vicinity of a reference plane lying in the optical path so as to scan spatially adjacent portions of said reference plane in a first scan direction;
    • (c) sensor means having a field of view and operative for detecting at least a portion of light of variable intensity reflected off the target:, and for generating an electrical signal indicative of the detected light intensity;
    • (d) means for processing said electrical signal to determine whether the reflected light of variable intensity represents a spatial variation of different light reflectivity that could be indicative of the presence of at least a first portion of a predetermined bar code symbol, and for generating an enabling signal indicating that a further scan in a different scan direction is necessary if a complete bar code symbol is not recognized;
    • (e) means for modifying the direction of scan from said first scan direction to another scan direction in response to said enabling signal to attempt to scan a complete bar code symbol.
  7. Apparatus as defined in claim 6, wherein said means for modifying the direction of scan comprises a prism disposed in the path of said beam.
  8. Apparatus as defined in claim 6 or 7, further comprising means for converting said electrical signals into digital representation, and memory means for storing said digital representations.
  9. Apparatus as defined in claim 8, wherein means for accessing said memory means are provided, to address rows and columns of an array of memory cells in a sequence of addresses representing a raster scan of the field of view at predetermined angle with respect to the axes of the field of view.
  10. Apparatus as defined in anyone of claims 6-9, wherein said means for optically modifying and directing the laser beam generates a scan pattern of mutually parallel scan lines, the direction of such lines being the scanning direction.
  11. Apparatus as defined in anyone of claims 6-10 wherein the laser and memory means are contained in a hand-held unit which includes a manually-activated trigger.
Anspruch[fr]
  1. Procédé de lecture d'un symbole de code à barres comprenant les étapes dans lesquelles :
    • (a) on dirige un faisceau lumineux suivant un motif de balayage sur un symbole devant être lu sous un premier angle de balayage ;
    • (b) on détecte au moins une partie de la lumière d'intensité variable revenant par réflexion du symbole sur un champ optique et on génère un signal électrique représentatif de l'intensité lumineuse détectée ;
    • (c) on traite ledit signal électrique pour produire des représentations numériques de l'intensité lumineuse détectée ;
    • (d) on transfère lesdites représentations numériques à une matrice mémoire ayant des rangées et des colonnes ; et
    • (e) on lit ladite matrice mémoire suivant une séquence de tracés directionnels linéaires jusqu'à ce qu'une séquence desdites représentations numériques représente au moins une partie d'un code à barres possible ; et si une ligne complète du symbole de code à barres possible n'est pas reconnue, on modifie ledit balayage dudit faisceau laser pour un autre angle de balayage et on continue de diriger ledit faisceau suivant un tracé de balayage différent sur ledit symbole, puis on répète les étapes (b) - (e) jusqu'à ce qu'un symbole de code à barres complet soit reconnu, et, ensuite,
    • (f) on traite ladite séquence de représentations numériques afin de déterminer l'information contenue dans le symbole.
  2. Procédé selon la revendication 1, dans lequel ladite étape consistant à diriger un faisceau laser comprend la génération d'un tracé de balayage de lignes de balayage mutuellement parallèles.
  3. Procédé selon la revendication 1, dans lequel ladite étape de lecture de la matrice mémoire comprend l'adressage des rangées et des colonnes de ladite matrice mémoire suivant une séquence d'adresses qui représente une traversée linéaire du champ optique.
  4. Procédé selon la revendication 1, dans lequel le symbole comprend plusieurs rangées de barres et d'espaces agencées suivant une matrice à deux dimensions, sensiblement rectangulaire, l'orientation dudit symbole étant représentée par la direction des rangées.
  5. Procédé selon la revendication 1, dans lequel le laser et la matrice mémoire sont contenus dans une unité portative qui comprend une détente actionnée à la main, et le procédé comprend en outre l'étape d'actionnement manuel de ladite détente par l'utilisateur pour déclencher ladite étape consistant à diriger ledit faisceau lumineux.
  6. Appareil pour la lecture de symboles de code à barres, comportant :
    • (a) une source de lumière destinée à émettre un faisceau laser ;
    • (b) un constituant optique disposé sur le chemin dudit faisceau pour modifier optiquement et diriger le faisceau laser suivant un chemin optique vers une cible placée au voisinage d'un plan de référence s'étendant dans le chemin optique afin de balayer des parties spatialement adjacentes dudit plan de référence dans une première direction de balayage ;
    • (c) un moyen à capteur ayant un champ optique et mis en oeuvre pour détecter au moins une partie d'une lumière d'intensité variable revenant par réflexion de la cible, et pour générer un signal électrique représentatif de l'intensité de la lumière détectée ;
    • (d) des moyens destinés à traiter ledit signal électrique pour déterminer si la lumière réfléchie d'intensité variable représente une variation spatiale d'une réflectivité lumineuse différente qui pourrait être représentative de la présence d'au moins une première partie d'un symbole de code à barres prédéterminé, et à générer un signal de validation indiquant qu'un autre balayage dans une direction de balayage différente est nécessaire si un symbole de code à barres complet n'est pas reconnu ;
    • (e) des moyens destinés à modifier la direction du balayage de ladite première direction de balayage à une autre direction de balayage en réponse audit signal de validation pour tenter de balayer un symbole de code à barres complet.
  7. Appareil selon la revendication 6, dans lequel lesdits moyens destinés à modifier la direction de balayage comprennent un prisme disposé dans le chemin dudit faisceau.
  8. Appareil selon la revendication 6 ou 7, comportant en outre des moyens destinés à convertir lesdits signaux électriques en une représentation numérique, et des moyens à mémoire destinés à stocker lesdites représentations numériques.
  9. Appareil selon la revendication 8, dans lequel des moyens destinés à accéder auxdits moyens à mémoire sont prévus, pour l'adressage de rangées et de colonnes d'une matrice de cellules de mémoire suivant une séquence d'adresses représentant un balayage tramé du champ optique sous un angle prédéterminé par rapport aux axes du champ optique.
  10. Appareil selon l'une quelconque des revendications 6-9, dans lequel lesdits moyens destinés à modifier optiquement et diriger le faisceau laser génèrent un tracé de balayage de lignes de balayage mutuellement parallèles, la direction de ces lignes étant la direction de balayage.
  11. Appareil selon l'une quelconque des revendications 6-10, dans lequel le laser et le moyen à mémoire sont contenus dans une unité portative qui comprend une détente actionnée à la main.






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