How We Scanned Your ID and What We Learned

Barcodes have been around for quite some time now, but most of us don’t realize the technology behind them. Perhaps you purchased an item from a grocery store or other retailer and noticed the little lines or squares on the back of the receipt that list items purchased along with their associated cost. These are known as linear barcodes and comprise most of what we see in stores today.

There is another type of barcode that is gaining popularity in recent years: a two-dimensional barcode, or PDF417. Two-dimensional barcodes can encode more data than linear barcodes and are found on mobile boarding passes and licenses, to name a few. For example, when you scan your license at a retail location, the clerk uses a PDF417 scanner to read all of your information from the license.

The process of decoding these types of barcodes is complex and requires significant computational power. In order to read the data within a PDF417 code, our application has to first detect it in an image; then it has to analyze each row and column in the image to determine where it should start and stop reading data; finally it needs to interpret what it reads.

For this article, we’ll take a look at how we scanned your ID using PDF417 technology.

The team here at has been hard at work to make our product better and to improve it for the user experience. We’ve taken a look at what we’ve done in the past and have come up with ways to improve on it. As you can see from our last blog post, we’ve been working on improving our mobile scanning experience. Through some research, we have found that there are a few areas that we can improve upon.

1) Our scanning service takes too long: The main reason for this is that we’re sending too much data over the internet so it takes longer for our servers to process your scan request. We’ve made changes to the way our server side code communicates with our database which allows us to cut down on this time drastically.

2) The scanning experience isn’t very user friendly: In order to make it more user friendly, we’ve added a new step where you can confirm or deny whether or not you want to continue with the scan before actually scanning anything. This helps ensure that your ID doesn’t get scanned accidentally or without your consent.

We’ve just launched a new service using PDF417 scanners. We wanted to write a post on some of the things we learned from integrating and supporting our customers’ use of new hardware.

PDF417 is a barcode format that encodes data for machine reading in an efficient way. It’s mostly used for government IDs (passports, drivers licenses, ID cards) but is being adopted for other purposes as well, like warehouse management.

Our platform already supported scanning QR codes (as well as MRZ 2/3 line) with our iOS and Android apps. While there are many methods for capturing a given format, we wanted to make sure that the interaction was seamless and didn’t require the user to think, “where do I point my phone?” We also wanted to make sure that the user could scan quickly and accurately while maintaining privacy of their information.

For the previous formats we’d used the device camera to capture the barcode without having any need for specific hardware. For PDF417, however, we needed to support dedicated scanners, since they provide better performance and are more suited to enterprise use cases like scanning an ID at a busy airport check-in counter.

The primary benefit of these scanners is that they can capture data faster than even the fastest consumer devices

Recently, the Washington Post published a great story about fraud in the world of ID scanning. Unfortunately, there were inaccuracies and misinterpretations of our product. I wanted to write this piece to set the record straight and give my perspective on how this technology is being used in the wild.

I co-founded a company called BarZapp that makes an ID scanner app that runs on your iPhone or Android smartphone. We scan driver licenses and verify age using several technologies. Most of what we do is proprietary, but we can talk about PDF417, a two-dimensional barcode format that is printed on almost every U.S. driver license and state ID card issued since 2003.

PDF417 is the most popular of several 2D barcodes that encode data into lines and spaces that can be read from an image. Since it was invented in 1991, PDF417 has been used for everything from boarding passes and passports to inventory management for warehouses and factories to military IDs (CAC cards). Like any technology, it can be used for good or ill; indeed, one researcher developed a method for hiding malicious code inside a PDF417 barcode!

Our scanner uses proprietary algorithms to extract information from PDF417 codes. It turns out that getting reliable reads from these images is hard

There are many technologies out there that allow us to collect information about you. Some are so new that you may not even be aware of them. Take for example, the PDF417 barcode on your drivers license. You may have seen this long barcode on your ID but were never sure what it was for.

This blog is designed to educate readers about data collection methods and technologies. Technology such as the PDF417 barcode has been used by retailers to check your age while buying alcohol or tobacco at stores across the country. However, there are more uses for this technology and ways to collect the data encoded in the PDF417 barcode using a smartphone.

Scanning PDF417 barcodes has become so common place that drivers licenses are now being referred to as “scannable IDs.” This is because of their ability to be collected and stored digitally much easier than before.

PDF417 barcodes were first introduced in 1987 by Symbol Technologies (now Zebra Technologies). It was designed as a two-dimensional stacked linear symbology that could hold more information than similar one-dimensional codes – such as UPCs or EANs. It is also an open source format, meaning that anyone can use it freely with little restriction or cost.

In August, we announced that pdf417 would be working with Arizona State University to launch the first mobile student ID in the nation. Since then, we have scanned over 17,000 student IDs on the Tempe campus and issued more than 3,000 cards to students at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

In an effort to measure the impact of this groundbreaking program, ASU surveyed students about their experiences using mobile ID. As expected, most students expressed overwhelming satisfaction with the technology. Of those surveyed:

96% of students found their mobile ID easy or very easy to use

pdf417 is a two-dimensional barcode that can hold about a kilobyte of data per square inch. It can be scanned with a camera phone or an ordinary scanner, and it’s already being used to hold everything from boarding passes to drivers licenses.

Earlier this year we started experimenting with pdf417 as another way for applicants to submit driver licenses and other official identification documents. We not only wanted to know if it would help our customers, but also if we could use the technology in our own business.

Over the past six months, we’ve scanned more than 1 million pdf417 barcodes. These barcodes have helped us learn more about our customers and how they interact with our product. Here are some of the things we learned:

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