We all get stuck at the supermarket checkout from time to time when the assistant can’t get an item’s bar code to scan. We’re left watching in awkward silence as the flustered employee waves the item every which way, upside down, back and forth, at an angle, until they’re left literally rubbing it on the scanner in the vain hope that the machine will do us all a favor, recognize that it’s a loaf of bread and beep.

No beep means caving in and keying in the code. Of course, that’s no great hardship, but it takes time, and when the checkout has a whole load of people waiting in line, it’s no fun for anyone.

But thanks to engineers at Japanese electronics company Toshiba, those days may soon be over. They’ve come up with a scanner that can recognize items — no bar code required. The Object Recognition Scanner (ORS) works by utilizing pattern and color recognition technology being developed by the company.

Toshiba’s Keiichi Hasegawa explained that although the special scanner is able to recognize any supermarket item, it will be particularly useful when it comes to fruit and vegetables.

“Fruit and vegetables in supermarkets don’t usually have bar codes because they’re put out while they’re fresh, so these items can’t be read at the register using bar codes, which means staff need to input data to record them,” Hasegawa said. “If staff are part-time employees, they may not recognize some items, which can cause delays. We’re developing this new scanner to solve that problem.”

The technology is so advanced that it goes well beyond simply telling the difference between an apple and an orange. Toshiba’s Object Recognition Scanner can tell your Red Delicious from your Pacific Rose, and your Cortland from your Wealthy — great news if you work in a supermarket and don’t happen to be an apple aficionado.

Toshiba is currently in the process of creating a database of typical supermarket items and is also fine tuning the scanner so that it will avoid causing any of those long, drawn-out item-waving moments.

[via diginfo]