Happy 20th Birthday QR Code

QR Code birthday graphicToyota Motor Corporation spin-off DENSO Corporation celebrated the 20th birthday of the QR Code on Thursday. It is not clear why August 7 was chosen as the official birthday date but it is the birthday of Masahiro Hara, the inventor of the QR Code. The filing date for the first QR Code patent (Japanese Patent JP2938338) was March 14, 1994 and I am not entirely sure why that date is not regarded as the official birthday.

Anyway Toyota Tsusho ID Systems have put up a celebratory webpage (now no longer available but this is a Internet Archive link) which includes the graphic displayed here. Unfortunately the QR Code simply resolves to the website’s home page which is not very imaginative and seems to be a lost opportunity to promote the company. And why not a cake like this one 🙂

Scan A QR Code And Adopt A Dog

Baxter cut-out in the IKEA storeCause marketing and QR Codes have been brought together brilliantly by IKEA Singapore who recently demonstrated their willingness to help shelter dogs find new homes.

IKEA and other leading home furnishing stores have combined to create a collective project called ‘Home for Hope’. By partnering with a group of local pet adoption organizations cardboard cut-outs of real animals available for adoption are showcased throughout the stores.

These life-like cut-outs are displayed in room sets exactly as they might be found in a real home and each has a unique QR code tagged to its collar which can be scanned for more information about that particular dog, for example Baxter (left).

After success in Singapore where 26 dogs found a new home the project is now being trialled in the US where the IKEA store in Tempe, Arizona has partnered with the Arizona Humane Society to home six dogs.

An Interview With The Inventor Of The QR Code

After posting news and comment on QR Codes for the last seven years it was really interesting for me to sit down and interview the inventor Masahiro Hara. He was making a brief stop in London after being presented with the “Popular Prize” at the European Inventor Award 2014 ceremony in Berlin two days previously.

We met over a pot of tea and thanks to his colleague Shingo Nii who acted as interpreter had a most enjoyable couple of hours discussing QR Codes and technology in general. Also present from Toyota was Tim Thompson and Francois Beau who kindly organized the meeting.

Here is a summary of the questions and my interpretation of the answers given by Masahiro.

When you invented the QR Code what problem were you trying to solve and what specific application did you have in mind?

Toyota invented “Kanban” a scheduling system for lean and just-in-time (JIT) production. The system controlled the logistical chain in a production environment and made use of linear barcodes. It became apparent to Toyota that the low number of bytes of information available in a linear barcode was constraining the development of Kanban. Masahiro Hara and his team were given the responsibility to develop a robust high capacity barcode for the manufacturing industry and after much work the result was a two-dimensional barcode, the QR Code.

Who decided that DENSO WAVE would not exercise patent rights to the QR Code and why?

One of the biggest benefits of the QR Code are the low printed costs on paper. To take advantage of this Masahiro thought Toyota should not exercise the patent rights and should distribute it for free without any limitations. He explained this to his top management and let them make the final decision. He also judged that businesswise it was a lot better to expand the use of QR Codes as quickly as possible and work on developing and selling special readers to keep the business growing in the future.

When did you first realize that QR Codes could be used for marketing?

The QR Code was introduced for the KANABAN system for the Toyota Group of companies at the beginning of 1996. Later in the year the QR Code was adopted by the Japanese stationary industry for ordering stationary supplies and stock control. By 2002 Japan had a highly developed 3G network and telecoms companies like NTTDoCoMo and KDDI were incorporating QR Code readers into their handsets. It was at this stage that the use of QR Codes for marketing purposes started its spectacular growth.

What in your view is the most effective use of QR Codes in advertising/marketing?

Masahiro surprised me by saying that he thought the most effective use of QR Codes in advertising/marketing is to display them in TV commercials, hence giving the viewer the option to find out more details of specific products.

What scanning app do you have on your phone and how often do you use it?

Masahiro said he uses DENSO WAVE’s own iPhone App “QRdeCODE” approximately 20 times/week. As a Samsung S4 user myself there then followed a discussion as to why the QRdeCODE app is not available for Android devices! It would appear that not having QRdeCODE for Android or Windows was a straight forward commercial decision. It’s not as if the Android market is crying out for a new QR Code scanning app given that there are over a hundred already available.

Do you approve of designer QR Codes?

QR Code on Masahiro Hara's business cardMasahiro said he did and he thought they were a really good idea. Indeed he has a colorful QR Code embedded with a head and shoulders shot of himself on his business card.

What technology do you think will replace QR Codes and when do you think this will happen?

This produced a really interesting discussion and it became clear that it is really two questions. What will replace QR Codes for consumers as a marketing tool and what will replace QR Codes in the manufacturing, warehousing, medical etc. sectors. Masahiro thought that in five years time the commercial sector may be using some form of “Color Code” which can be printed with more data and in less space. As far as consumers are concerned we touched on NFC and image (visual) recognition but neither of us could see clearly the game changing advantages or the framework in which these technologies may operate in marketing.

We then moved on to topics such as Google Glass and brain computer interaction and it became quite clear that Masahiro Hara has not stopped thinking about enabling technologies.

Thanks again to Francois Beau of Toyota Tsusho ID Systems for the invitation and arrangement of such an interesting afternoon.

Roger Smolski and Masahiro Hara share their thoughts on barcode symbology and human computer interaction

Inventor Of The QR Code Is Award Finalist

Masahiro Hara, the inventor of the QR Code has been nominated for the 2014 European Patent Office (EPO) award in the Non-European countries category (video below).

As well as receiving around 150,000 patent applications every year the EPO holds an annual European Inventor Award competition. Anyone can nominate an inventor but the winners are chosen by EPO experts and an independent international jury. They evaluate innovations not only on their technological originality but also on their economic and social impact.

Prizes are awarded in various categories but there is one ‘Popular Prize’ chosen by the public from all the shortlisted finalists. This year the award ceremony will be held in Berlin, Germany, on 17 June and you can vote for Masahiro Hara and his colleagues in the ‘Popular Prize’ category here (closing date 10 June).

QR Code Scanning In The Rain

This idea is extremely ingenious but I have my doubts that it ever worked as well as is claimed. Ogilvy & Mather Group spray painted Hong Kong streets with QR Code advertising that only shows up when the pavement is wet (video below). Using water repellent spray meant that when it rained commuters could see the message “It’s sunny in the Philippines” and a QR Code that resolved to discount deals from airline Cebu Pacific.

In the video the agency claim that online bookings increased 37% which is difficult to believe for two reasons. Firstly the lack of contrast will make the QR Code difficult, if not impossible, to scan in most conditions. Secondly the QR Code uses a Google short URL which enables us to see the scanning statistics and the total number of scans showing is only 89 (screenshot below).

However the campaign may have been a success through press and TV reporting, much like this QR Code haircut from 2011.

Google url shortner stats showing 89 scans