The QR Buzz

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If you're used to checking out bar codes on items, you might have noticed some new strange-looking codes on products known as QR (quick response) codes. Unlike the codes used for reading prices, QR codes are usually square-shaped images made up of black and white smaller squares arranged in what looks like a random pattern. Although initially used to identify parts in manufacturing, today people are using QR codes for many different purposes. If you've never used QR codes, you might wonder just what they do and why anyone would want to use them. Particularly in public works. So let's take a look at QR codes and how we might use them at work.

In order to perform any function, QR codes must be scanned with a smart phone with the use of a special application. The layout and configuration of the squares within the code can be positioned to cause the smart phone to initiate one of many different types of actions.

  • Access a website
  • Call a specific phone number
  • Generate and give you the option to send a specific text message
  • Play a video from a website
  • Play an audio file from a website
  • Send an email
  • Send contact info
  • Generate a Tweet on Twitter

In order to scan and read the QR code, you must first have a smart phone and then find and download a smart phone app designed to read QR codes. One app I've used is NeoReader, and another popular app is ScanLife. Microsoft also offers their own type of QR code called Microsoft Tag and an app to read their code. In order to access any QR code, you just launch the app designed to read it. Then you move your smart phone as if you are going to take a picture of the code. Once your phone "sees" and locks onto the code, it will perform the action embedded in the code. Perhaps you will be taken to a specific website, or a phone number will be uploaded to your phone and you will be asked if you want to call that number.

So how is this useful to us? Some agencies, such as Catawba County, have started placing QR codes on building permits issued for construction. People can scan the code to  access information about the permit to find out the name of the contractor, what is being constructed, and access a map of the location. Other places have installed QR codes at locations of interest. People scanning those codes might be taken to a website offering information about that area. QR codes can also be installed on construction projects so that people can access information about the project that is delivered through a website, audio file, or video. Perhaps a phone number could be offered through the code to report incidents or leave comments.

Microsoft Tag IDOT Spec BookLast year, I tried out QR codes by using the Microsoft Tag and placing it on a set of plans. One of the codes led people to the online version of the IDOT Standard Specifications and the other allowed a smart phone to call for a locate. Although the ability to automatically link to a site or call a number is useful, there's another use I'm thinking will be even more valuable. If 3D CAD objects are created for specific details or elements of a project, QR codes can be used to display these 3D objects by using another technology called augmented reality (AR). With AR, you see the object with the use of either your smart phone or another device, or glasses made to display AR objects. If you want to get an idea of how this works, you can visit the General Electric Smart Grid site, print out their code, and use your webcam to display a 3D object using AR. So by placing QR codes next to details on a set of plans and linking them to a 3D object, the QR code can program a contractor's smart phone to display the detail in 3D using AR technology. Those are just a few ideas - I'm sure over time, we'll find even more uses for QR Codes. And if you have any you've already tried, make sure you share them in the comments below.

For those of you interested in making your own QR code, you can either sign up and generate your own for free on the Microsoft Tag website, or you can generate the standard QR codes at the following sites: Kaywa, qrstuff.com, or i-nigma.

 

 

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August 24, 2011

QR codes are fine for accessing temporary items like advertisements. However, they are not suitable for construction plan details. Construction plans are archived and may need to be referenced 100 years from now, when the QR technology has completly disappeared. My organization frequently references 100 year old plans. In addition, there does not appear to be any published standard for QR codes.

Posted By: Working Guy 129 | Time: 8:42:16.767 PM

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August 31, 2011

Thanks for the comment. I haven't worried if the QR codes are not accessible in the future because the QR codes I've used on plans are primarily just for use during construction. The one I used pointed to the 811 phone number, and the other pointed to the IDOT spec book for that project. They were both more for the convenience of the field crews. If I try sometime to create a 3D image to better illustrate a detail during construction, my intention would also be just to make construction easier. Also, from looking at past plans, I realize phone numbers can change and there's a good chance phones might not even be around someday. And the spec book gets updated every year or more, so I'm not sure the online copy will even be available forever. But even so, you bring up a great point - so much of what we do today makes me wonder if we will be able to access and use it in the future. Will we be able to open old CAD drawings, how should we be archiving all of our files so we can access them no matter the program, should we keep paper copies or can we go paperless? Even today I started thinking about how best to save emails so someone can get to them many years from now. It's probably a great topic for another blog post! :-)

Posted By: Pam Broviak | Time: 6:04:23.193 PM

 

 
 

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About the Blogger

Pam Broviak

thumbnail image A former senior editor of PUBLIC WORKS, Pam Broviak publishes the Public Works Group Blog at http://www.publicworksgroup.com/blog. (All views expressed in this blog are her own and not those of PUBLIC WORKS.)