P1 Technology Helpdesk
with John Rivera
QR Codes: An old technology finds a new application
The QR (Quick Response) Code was originally developed in 1994 by a company owned by the Toyota Corporation to help workers track parts for vehicle manufacturing
As both law enforcement professionals and as private citizens, we see a plethora of symbols. We all know what a UPC (Universal Product Code) looks like. You know, the striped lines over a set of numbers. This symbol — first used in grocery stores — is now used in just about every aspect of day to day living. The UPC symbol simplifies product counting, pricing, sorting, and distribution in any given business by allowing a person to scan the symbol with a scanner and place or deliver it where it belongs.
The QR (Quick Response) Code is another type of symbol has recently become commonplace in our everyday lives, but some people don’t yet know what they are or how they’re used. The QR Code is typically a two-dimensional symbol shaped much like a postage stamp. It can be generated in different sizes and can be read by a camera-enabled mobile device with a program (app) that allows the device to interpret the data provided in the QR Code.
The symbol is much like the code that is printed on the back of many current drivers’ licenses in the United States and some other countries. It contains vital information for the person who it is issued to. The QR Code is generated to link the scanning person to a website.
Developed Almost 20 Years Ago
The QR Code was originally developed in 1994 by a company owned by the Toyota Corporation to help workers track parts for vehicle manufacturing. Although almost twenty years old, the symbol has only recently emerged to be included in many advertisements we see throughout our everyday life. Nowadays, QR Codes have various purposes and require the particular application to link or to properly interpret it. Simply put; once the code is scanned, the scanning device will respond by opening up the correct application to appropriately handle the encoded data. This is accomplished by so-called “Application Identifiers” embedded in the encoded data.
Various types and sizes of this code are currently utilized in the medical industry and package delivery industry, for just two examples.
I recently took the plunge, upgraded my cell phone to a Smartphone and found I could scan and interpret UPC and QR Codes. I have found this very convenient when comparing products at stores. Of course, your Smartphone may already have the application (explanation saved for another article) installed to scan the code.
I’m sure you’ve seen a QR Code in magazines you read, while shopping, or even on an advertisement on a city bus or billboard. Once scanned, the code will ink you to a website, video, or other information. If PoliceOne Senior Editor Doug Wyllie has ever handed you his business card, you’ll have seen the QR Code on the back — scan it and you’re taken to his columnist profile page.
QR Codes are easily generated and are robust because the QR Code contains not only the information programmed into it but also contains its own error-correction data, internal-orientation calibration, and self-alignment markers. This allows the scanner to read the QR Code whether it is upside down or wrapped around a curved surface.
Symbols Like “Snowflakes”
The QR code is much like a fingerprint — no two are alike and differ on how they are read. As I mentioned above, QR codes have different purposes. The code can be generated to link the person scanning the code to a website or automatically call a number contained in the code from a Smartphone. In industry the code may give delivery instructions, hold vital patient information or any other information coded but that industry must write an application to interpret that particular code.
Just like any other web based technology there can be risks. QR Codes maliciously combined with a permissive reader can put a user’s privacy at risk much like a computer virus can enable the virus developer to view private files stored in your computer and or Smartphone. So be careful.
As I mentioned above, QR Codes have many purposes. Recently here in the Seattle area QR Codes were printed on taxi cabs during the holiday season to allow those who may have overindulged to scan a QR Code to automatically call a cab for a safe ride home.
QR Codes may not have an everyday purpose in police work but I am sure that QR Codes are currently utilized in some larger police agencies to catalog evidence or other purposes. Just imagine if your agency website has a QR Code within the web page generated to link a person scanning it to other websites that provide information on crime statistics or other community based information.