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QR codes

How do QR codes work?

QR codes are a technology that desperately wants our attention. They appear everywhere from supermarket shelves and magazines to hiking trails and tombstones.
QR (Quick Response) code is the trademark name for the two dimensional barcode system. It was originally invented in 1994 by Denso Wave, a Toyota subsidiary, as a way to track vehicles as they were assembled, and to scan components at high speeds. While Denso Wave does hold the patent on the technology, it has granted free license on it, going so far as to publish the spec online, and allowing anyone to use it.

While it is easy for people to read Arabic numerals, it is hard for a computer. Bar codes encode alphanumeric data as a series of black and white lines of various widths. At the store, bar codes record the set of numbers that specify a product’s ID. Critically, data stored in bar codes is redundant. Even if part of the bar code is destroyed or obscured, it is still possible for a device to read the product ID.

QR codes are designed to be scanned using a camera, such as those found on your smartphone. QR code scanning is built into many camera apps for Android and iOS. QR codes are most often used to store web links; however, they can store arbitrary data, such as text or images.

When you scan a QR code, the QR reader in your phone’s camera deciphers the code, and the resulting information triggers an action on your phone. If the QR code holds a URL, your phone will present you with the URL. Tap it, and your phone’s default browser will open the webpage. The conventional one dimensional barcodes used on virtually every consumer product are mechanically scanned. That is, they’re read by physically bouncing a narrow beam of light onto the code, which can be interpreted using the pattern of light reflected off the white gaps between the lines.
A QR code works by encoding data in a certain way (a certain standard) so scanning software can interpret the results. For example, normal barcodes on products are considered 1D barcodes. The lines are different widths that correspond to numbers. Software interprets those line widths as numbers.
Same with the QR code; the location of each block is interpreted by the software and the combination of a bunch of blocks combine to represent certain characters. Combine the characters and you can get a URL for example.
If you add logic in the scanning software that opens a browser and goes to the link when the encoded data looks like a URL (with http://), you have added the functionality of translating printed material into digital material.

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