Don't Call In Those Orders, `Scan' Them In

The classic traveling salesperson's problem: how to send orders swiftly and accurately back to headquarters for fulfillment. In the old days that was done with paper, pencil, and telephone. Today, one might use a laptop computer. But even then there are keyboard errors, and salespeople may be baffled by computer software.

Advanced Retail Technologies Inc. in New York thinks it has a simple way around the complexity. It has devised a handheld computer that scans in bar codes off a preprinted sheet. Codes can represent items from an order form and prices, as well as letters, numbers, and simple commands. Once an order is captured, an accompanying "communications cradle" transmits it to the home office's computer and provides a printout for the customer. The two units weigh a total of 36 ounces and together sell for about $400. One early customer: Mary Kay Cosmetics Inc.

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