Optical character recognition technology reads printed alphanumeric characters (letters and numbers) and recodes these characters into machine-readable forms such as a barcode. There are other recognition technologies like magnetic or mechanical, but
these seem clearly impractical for conventional mail.
For example, rather than showing addresses in black and white alphanumeric printing on envelopes, the address information could be stored in bits of information in magnetic stripes on the envelope, similar to credit cards and farecards. However, magnetic stripes are not readable by the human eye and would be difficult for senders to encode and receivers to decode. Another form of magnetic code is MICR (magnetic ink
character recognition) used on bank checks. characters and requires special equipment.
This code is readable but lacks alphabetic Alternatively, a mechanical code could be
Thus, address information could
stored as punched holes in cards or tape difficult to read and would require special
In sum, while there are electronic, magnetic, and mechanical alternatives to
optical character recognition, none are both readable and readily and cheaply available as a substitute at the present time. In the final analysis, OTA found that, at least for the U.S. mail, it is as yet difficult to improve on the information carrying ability, readability, and cost effectiveness of printed characters on paper. As long as this is the case, then optical character recognition technology is the technology of choice.