In 1948, N Joseph Woodland – a graduate student at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia – was pondering a challenge from a local retailer: how to speed up the tedious process of checking out in his stores by automating transactions. A smart young man, Woodland – known as Joseph – had worked on the Manhattan Project during the War, and had designed a better system for playing elevator music. But he was stumped. Then, sitting on Miami Beach while visiting his parents, his fingertips idly combing through the sand, a thought struck him. Just like Morse code used dots and dashes to convey a message, he could use thin lines and thick lines to encode information. A zebra-striped bull’s-eye could describe a product and its price in a code that a machine could read. The idea was workable, but with the technology of the time it was costly. But as computers advanced and lasers were invented, it became more realistic. Read more at BBC News.