As computer systems become more intelligent, they are used in a wider variety of work situations where previously it was necessary to employ people. Hospitals can increasingly use computers where highly trained people were required to deal with life-threatening situations. Computers can also be used in airports where highly trained experts were previously required to ensure safety and the police can make more use of computers to detect and investigate increasingly sophisticated crimes.
One of the uses considered in this unit is police speed trapsused to catch drivers that are breaking the official speed limit. In earlier systems, radarequipment was used to bounce radio waves off the moving car. A small processor, known as a microprocessor,calculated the speed of the car from the changes in the radio waves and triggered an ordinary camera with a flashgun to take a photograph of the car if it was speeding. The details were stored on a smart card(a plastic card with a built-in computer system that can store large amounts of data). When the smart card was taken back to the police station, the driver's details were obtained from the DVLC(Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre) databasei.e. the central computerised records of all licensed drivers and vehicles.
Newer systems prevent 'surfing'i.e. where the driver only slows down as they pass through the speed trap, by using two computerised units with digital cameras placed at a fixed distance apart. Each unit records the time that a vehicle passes it, as well as photographing and identifying the car licence number using OCR software(optical character recognition software that changes picture images of letters and numbers into digital form for use by a computer system). The computer then uses the difference in recorded times to calculate the speed of the vehicle. The registration numbers of vehicles exceeding the speed limit are immediately downloaded(copied from the computer to a server computer) to the computer at police headquarters where each vehicle is matched with the DVLC database. Standard letters are then printed off addressed to the vehicle owners using mailmerge(a wordprocessing feature that produces a separate standard letter containing details obtained from each record in a database).
There are many ways in which computer systems can be used in large supermarkets, particularly for financial calculations and in stock control using EPOS tills(electronic point of sale cash tills). Each item on a supermarket shelf has a barcode labelwith a barcode(a standard set of vertical bars of varying thickness used to identify products) printed on it. The barcode number system giving standard price and item code numbers used throughout Europe is known as EAN(European Article Number). The barcodes are read by scanner devices called barcode readersthat are attached to the EPOS tills. When a checkout operator moves the barcode label across the scanner, the label is scanned and the barcode number for that item is read. The scanner signals are converted to a digitalform (where the changing signal is either off or on) and sent to the supermarket branch computer. The branch computer checks the digital EAN code against a computer database(a type of applications program used for storing information so that it can be easily searched and sorted) that holds a record of each type of item. In this way the item and the price of the item can be identified and the sale of the product can be recorded by the computer. The item and the price are shown.