QR Codes Are Everywhere

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Train, Bern to Zurich, Dec. 22, 2021

For better or for worse, QR codes are now part of the COVID era landscape. It all started in1994, when engineer Masahiro Hara was working on a compact code to track car parts. The grid used in the Japanese game of Go gave him the idea for a two-directional code that could store much more information and deliver it faster than the usual barcode. The letters QR stand for Quick Response. Hara’s employer, Denso Wave, decided to make the code freely available instead of taking out a patent, which is why we see it everywhere.

For most of us, QR codes only became relevant when smartphone cameras could be used to scan them. For iPhone users, this upgrade happened with the Apple iOS 11 in 2017; for Android, it took place in 2018 with the Android 9. Before the camera upgrade made access to QR standard, smartphone users had to have a nonstandard app to scan the codes. Today practically anyone with a smartphone can scan a QR code, that is an estimated 3.5 billion people. (Telegraph Herald link below).

Now we see QR codes used for boarding passes, hospital bracelets, pharmacy labels, menus, theater tickets, nutritional information–I would need dozens of QR codes to list all the possible applications. And I didn’t even notice them before 2020. Early in the pandemic, some restaurants laminated their menus–and shortened them–so they could be sanitized between uses. The next step was to put a QR code on the table so that you could see the menu on your phone. This saves handing out menus, collecting them, and wiping them down. Plus pricing and menu updates can be changed once at the source, the same way grocery stores use bar codes. You can’t blame restaurants for wanting to keep them, even though many customers hate them.

As the Delta variant surged in Europe in the late fall of 2021, the QR code became a tool for reducing the spread of COVID. Restaurants scanned the QR code on your phone’s COVID Cert App to check your identification and your immune status through vaccination, recovery from COVID, or testing. Signs for testing stations displayed QR codes which would connect you to a web site where you could schedule an appointment or get more information.

QR applications are limited only by people’s ingenuity. Here are some of the more unusual uses in the news today, with links below:

  1. Authorities in China are using a QR code red light/green light system to admit people to venues and services, such as banks, train stations, and hotels. If your QR code turns red, you will be escorted to a quarantine facility. There are reports that this code was used to stop people who planned to demonstrate because their bank accounts had been frozen.
  2. Some beggars in India now display a QR code which people can scan with their smartphones and send over a few rupees instead of reaching for their wallets.
  3. A fifteen-year-old boy in Thailand developed a free QR code system for elderly people with memory loss. The code can be worn on a wristband or affixed to their clothing to help their family locate them.
  4. QR codes are increasingly used on gravestones and memorial markers to enable visitors to see an obituary, pictures, or learn more about the person’s life.
  5. Cities, museums, and other public spaces use QR codes to guide tourists, provide maps, or give information for a self-guided tour. No audio-guide needed! Brazil embedded mosaic QR codes in its sidewalks in 2013.
  6. The town of Monmouth in South Wales became the “world’s first Wikipedia town” in 2012 when it posted QR codes around town linking to Wikipedia articles which automatically come up in the language of the user’s phone. The project is called: “Monmouthpedia.”
Photograph by Mike Peel; link below

QR codes are everywhere. They are just too useful to do without–until the next code comes along.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“A Brief History of QR Codes,” North Coast Journal, Feb. 10, 2022. https://www.northcoastjournal.com/humboldt/a-brief-history-of-qr-codes/Content?oid=22744441

“Opinion  QR code menus are good. No, seriously.” Washington Post, June 15, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/06/15/restaurant-qr-code-menus-good/

“China is using QR codes to try to control COVID-19. Now, protestors fear the codes are being used to monitor and track them, too.” Business Insider, June 16, 2022. https://www.businessinsider.com/chinese-protestors-fear-covid-qr-code-monitor-them-2022-6

“In India’s Mobile-Payments Boom, Even Beggars Get QR Codes,” Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-indias-mobile-payments-boom-even-beggars-get-qr-codes-11653653383

“Boy creates QR code to trace missing elderly people with memory problems,” Thai PBS World May 27, 2022. https://www.thaipbsworld.com/boy-creates-qr-code-to-trace-missing-elderly-people-with-memory-problems/

“Cuyahoga Falls to unveil monument at graves of former slaves,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 16, 2022. https://www.beaconjournal.com/story/news/2022/06/16/former-slaves-graves-cuyahoga-falls-ohio-juneteenth-oakwood-cemetery-john-and-emily-hansparker/7610207001/

“Effective QR code marketing: The how and the why,” Telegraph Herald, June 9, 2022. https://www.telegraphherald.com/magazine-websites/biztimes/business/article_6a5abab2-fcb8-5403-9f39-00886aaefe35.html

“Brazil makes tourist strolls smartphone-friendly,” USA Today, Jan. 25, 2013. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/01/25/brazil-bar-codes-sidewalks/1865821/

Additional Sources

“QR Code Security: What are QR codes and are they safe to use?” Kaspersky, https://usa.kaspersky.com/resource-center/definitions/what-is-a-qr-code-how-to-scan

“New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” U. S. Food & Drug Administration, May 5, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-era-smarter-food-safety

Monmouthpedia, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monmouthpedia

By Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19515300

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be written on our memories just as the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, or the Cold War left their mark on past generations. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience, drawing on my background as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

One comment

  1. I just saw the program how he invented QR code on Japanese TV.
    Very interesting. Glad you are doing well. Stay well.

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