Quick Response (QR) codes are one of the more interesting examples of clever ways in which barcodes are integrated in everyday life. Originally developed to track automotive parts in 1994, their flexibility and ease of use made them a common sight throughout the world. After all, with a simple QR scanner on your smartphone, you can easily learn more about a given product, location, or access special features in just a few moments.
Of course, the flexibility and ease of use make these trivial to misuse. The words of B.L. Ochman from 2011, that “what really should die aren’t QR codes but the dumb ways agencies and brands try to use them“ remain true today. Perhaps they are even more true, due to the negative reception poor QR code implementations received in the past. Here’s five examples of when things went right.
Croatian Postage Stamps
Created for the 20th anniversary of the Croatian Post, a limited series of postage stamps bearing a QR code in place of the standard image was released, according to 2D Code in graphic design. Along with the unique code identifier printed below the code, anyone who received a parcel or a letter with said stamp could learn how many kilometers it has traveled, when it was sent, and other facts about the piece of mail they have in their hands. This is an ideal example of how a QR code can be used to provide utility without compromising aesthetics or adding redundant functionality (image via shutterstock).
Regulating Access to Confidential Documents
With the increasing number of high profile data breaches in 2014, it is no wonder that many companies are looking at abolishing the industry standard that is the user name and password system. This unorthodox project is more advanced and more intuitive than it may seem, NextGov says. Instead of typing in phrases, the proposed system relies on the user’s smartphone, which is used to scan the code on the login page. The application in the smartphone then connects to the central database to verify the user’s security credentials and provides access if they check out. The inherent advantage of the system is that since QR code has to be scanned with an app, the phone’s geolocator can be used to verify that the user is, in fact, in the correct location and not, say, in a hacker’s den in eastern Europe (image via shutterstock).
QR codes are typically not associated with money or banking. This is set to change with the latest developments in the Chinese market, where the central bank has decided to ease restrictions on digital payments. More specifically, payments with QR codes generated by the consumers’ smartphones just like scanners from companies such as Shopify are being used in the retail industry. In lieu of cash or credit cards, sales personnel can simply scan the QR code generated dynamically by the application connected to the owner’s bank account. Although largely a novelty at this point, this highlights the potential still present in QR codes. It is most certainly appreciated by the big players in the Chinese market, as they are quietly moving in to secure this fledgling technology. Will it succeed in the long term? It remains to be seen, but for the time being it is a major success (image via shutterstock).
Assisting Rescue Workers
Yet perhaps the most striking innovation featuring QR codes doesn’t come from retail or commerce. It’s been created by the automotive industry, where QR codes were first born. Mercedes-Benz, one of the giants of the European car market, has introduced a system where the codes are used to aid emergency workers responding to the site of a car crash. Printed on the fuel cap cover and B pillars, these can be scanned using any QR code reader, providing instant access to a breakdown of the car’s systems. That way, rescue workers can instantly identify where to cut to remove the injured from the wreckage. Best of all, Mercedes-Benz has decided to release the system free of charge, allowing any company to implement it in their vehicles (image via shutterstock).
Vehicle Maintenance Tracking
Of course, it’s not just the private sector that innovates and integrates QR codes. One of the finest examples comes from Kent County, Michigan, where Forrest Hills has introduced QR codes on school buses on September 1, according to the local Fox affiliate. The purpose? To provide immediate access to the maintenance records of any given school bus. Apart from facilitating upkeep, they also enable parents and pupils alike to quickly learn when the bus was last serviced and how well it’s maintained. It adds an additional layer of communication to a field that always benefits from it (via shutterstock).
Lessons to Be Learned
All of the above examples have one thing in common: Utility. The Quick Response code is used as it was intended, to provide the person who scans them with additional features that are not available otherwise or require jumping through far more hoops than simply scanning the code. With these smart innovations leading the charge, news of QR code’s death are definitely premature (image via shutterstock).