QR Codes

QR Codes


There’s a reason why QR codes might remind you of something else.

"I used to play Go [the Japanese game involving black and white stones played on a 19x19 grid] on my lunch break. One day, while arranging the black and white pieces on the grid, it hit me that it represented a straightforward way of conveying information. It was a eureka moment."
  ~ Masahiro Hara on Nippon.com, 10 February 2020

In 1994 Hara was a 35 year old engineer working with the industrial equipment manufacturer Denso Wave, part of the Japanese Toyota Group. He knew that the multiple barcodes on automobile parts were slowing down Toyota's kanban, or "just-in-time," production system. A barcode typically codes for 20 alphanumeric characters, meaning that some products had to be branded with up to 10 barcodes to hold all the required information. It was clearly inefficient to have workers scan all of these, sometimes thousands of times a day.

So Hara and his team essentially turned a one-dimensional bar code into a compact two-dimensional grid that could be read swiftly — hence the acronym “QR” standing for “quick response” — while accuracy and redundancy is achieved with the “fiducial markers” (the squares in three of the corners) and the so-called Reed-Solomon system for error detection and correction.

QR codes are somewhat ubiquitous these days, and justifiably so. COVID-19 and its promotion of touchless turned out to be the thing that took their usage to and through its tipping point.

They are also very convenient. If you've eaten out lately, you will have been invited to scan a QR code to view the menu on your phone, and possibly even place your orders and pay. They've been popping up: on airline boarding passes; beside museum artifacts and paintings in art galleries; in magazine ads, linking to a website pages; and even on gravestones, delivering a bio that goes beyond the minimal dates of birth and death.

In terms of ease of use, a technical breakthrough came in 2002, when Sharp introduced a cellphone with a built-in QR code reader. Apple first embedded a QR code reader in the iPhone camera app with the release of iOS 11 in September 2017. That was a game-changer. Today, with over 6 billion smartphone users globally, 80 percent of the world's population can now take advantage of this handy way of exchanging information.

Interestingly, Denso Wave decided not to patent the code technology but rather to make it freely available, encouraging its use and establishing QR standards. Instead of making money from licensing fees, the company profited by selling the scanners needed to read the codes.


A Brief History of QR Codes by Barry Evans
Japanese Gravestones Memorialize the Dead With QR Codes


1. QR Code for REMO Home Page
2. Go Game. Image Credit: Saran Poroong for Getty Images
3. Masahiro Hara. Image: Denso Wave
4. QR Code Links to Menu
5. QR Code Links to Balenciaga Website Page
6. QR Code being painted on a building in Cape Town
7. QR Code on a Gravestone
8. QR Codes can be colourful
9. Structure of a QR Code

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