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Last week I reviewed “YouAre” and dropped a little hint about an emerging technology called “QR Codes”. What are these rather strange looking 2D codes? Let’s take a closer look at them and see if there’s anything interesting you can do with them.

What are QR Codes?

You’re probably already familiar with the bar code. It’s a series of differently widthed and spaced lines that confers a numerical value to the item it is attached to. While it appears to be a 2D object, it’s actually one dimensional, since the scanner picks up all the information it needs by taking a cross-section of the image.

QR, or “Quick Response,” Codes are different because the entire image is part of the code. While I’m not an expert in the layout of these codes, here is some general info about how they are constructed.

QR codes

The three prominent boxes in the corners of each code indicate the location of the image (so it can be centered by the image parser). Another smaller box in the lower-right aligns the image. The rest of the blocks indicate the information specific to the international standards (which were approved in 2000) and finally the identifying data contained within the code.

“How are these codes read?” you might be asking. Cameraphones are the answer. While the US has been slow to adopt cameraphones, their use became ubiquitous many years ago in Japan and other Asian nations. They subsequently began developing technologies that make the best use of all those cameras. One of them is QR Code. Any object or advertisement can be labeled with one of these bad boys and automatically any cameraphone user can immediately summon up the underlying message.

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QR Code Generator

Now that you understand the premise of QR Codes, I’ll bet you’re hankering to try some out. First of all, you can make your own easily online. Semapedia has a QR Code generator, as do these similarly named sites at Winksite and Kaywa. The Semapedia one has an option to make several in a batch. Winksite is my favorite generator because it gives you the most options in terms of how you want your data to read out. Here’s a sample below:

After you generate these codes, what can you do with them? Well they have an enormous number of different uses. One of their first applications, industrial cataloging, can be used domestically as well. Simply place QR Codes on items like books or sealed boxes so you can quickly find out what’s in them. Alternately, you can post them in public places in hopes that other QR initiates will pick up on the trend and contact you.

While these may seem strange and foreign, the QR Code has already become a staple of Japanese culture. I asked my friend who recently visited Japan for several months if she was familiar with QR Codes. At first she didn’t recognized the term, but once I showed her one, she told me that they are on absolutely everything (known locally as “barcodes”). They display nutritional information on foods, coupons for products, and replace the “see our website” moniker found on most advertisements in America.

Want to try it out for yourself? Go to Semapedia and scroll to the bottom. You’ll see an area for selecting your type of phone. After that the instructions should guide you the rest of the way. If you’re an iPhone user, you’re in luck. There is a very nice App for the iPhone, called 2D Sense, already up on the App Store.

If you want to learn more about QR Codes, here are some resources for you:

Have you ever seen these out in the wild? I think I’ve seen them on the odd package sent through a shipping service, but that’s about it. Maybe now that I know about them, I’ll notice them more often (and snag a look with my iPhone).

[Images from YouSay, Wikipedia, and 2D Sense, respectively]

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