What is a QR Code

Materialism descended on Japan in the 1960s like a Kansas tornado. As products poured over store counters, overworked cashiers came down with carpel tunnel syndrome from punching product numbers into registers. Japan and its cashiers needed help.

QR Codes 101: A Brief History

Fast forward three decades. UPC bar codes ran amuck across the industrialized world. Yet the average bar code held a mere 12 alphanumeric digits. Then one company had a novel idea — why not make a two-dimensional bar code that could be deciphered vertically and horizontally? — and with it encoded history.

After a year and a half of sifting through newspapers, inspecting cameras and plugging through programming, Denso Wave Inc. released the Quick Response (QR) code in 1994. It was immediately put to use tracking vehicle parts through production. But Denso had planted a seed, and few suspected how far the stalk would grow.

How QR Codes Work: A Geek’s Take

What is a QR code? It looks like a bird’s-eye view of Manhattan. Hedged by large, ringed squares in three corners, smaller black squares pepper the whitespace. A QR scanner uses the three capstone squares to triangulate the position, orientation and angle of the matrix, and then a QR reader converts the visual labyrinth into numeric, alphanumeric, binary or Kanji data. QR codes come in 40 versions with one of four error correction levels. Proprietary algorithms can provide data encryption. When used in conjunction with a web browser, QR codes can contain Javascript executables which automatically send texts, make donations or link to websites. QR codes can be freely generated online.

But, all a customer must do is snap a photograph of a QR code using a smartphone camera. The rest is science.

QR Codes Education: How They Are Used

What are QR codes used for? Outside of Japan, America’s middle-aged women are the QR code’s biggest devotees. Marketing agencies have released gargantuan codes swapping out the black squares with a photograph mosaic. Starbucks offers a QR code secure payment. Sweepstakes contests utilize QR code entries.

So what is a QR code? It is a blank check — Denso’s invitation to innovation.