2018-09-10

Dual purpose QR codes

We used to include a QR code on product labels with the serial number. This is so that sales staff can scan in serial numbers to delivery notes and track stock. This is not uncommon.

This example barcode has a simple serial number 2900-0000-0000 which is great if you want to know the serial number, as we do.

However, QR codes are starting to be quite common and most phones will just read them, even in the camera app. This is somewhat boring being just a serial number. People are actually used to QR codes having useful URLs to take them to a web site.

So, we came up with a cunning plan. This was actually to help one of my friends with some work he is doing for a customer, and we came up with this plan between us, and it works quite well.

The trick is making the barcode useful to us as a serial number but also useful to random people reading it on their phone.

To that end, we make a slight change to the content of the barcode, and now it has HTTPS://FB0.UK/290000000000 in it, as an example.

As you see, you can fit a short domain like that, and 12 digits of serial number, in the same minimum size QR code. We had to lose the hyphens, and stick to upper case, to fit without being a more dense QR code or taking more space.

When scanned, you get to the FireBrick web site, and indeed to the FB2900 product page which includes a link to the quick start guide, etc. This makes it actually a useful barcode for anyone pointing their phone at it.

For our systems, we can easily make them strip the initial HTTPS://FB0.UK/ (and add in hyphens to look nicer). So we can use it as a serial number just as we did before.

Bingo, dual use QR codes.

18 comments:

  1. I like the idea of generating the QR code with maximum error correction, then embedding a small image in the middle.

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  2. Interestingly the top right QR code scans OK for me but the middle one won't whatever I do. It's not that the app is expecting numbers only as the examples on http://qreateandtrack.com/qr-code-examples-and-ideas/ work..

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    1. QR codes that hold a URL are really big standard and I have no problem with iPhone camera or the apps I have tried. Does it give any sort of error. I’ll be interested to hear if anyone else has issues. What are you scanning it with?

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    2. Almost every example on that page you mention is a web site link in the QR code which is exactly what I did.

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    3. In fact I think every one of those is a URL!

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    4. They both scan for me on my trusty old Nexus One using the ZXing barcode scanner app v4.4.

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    5. Firefox mangled the rendering of the second code for me - it had three thin horizontal lines running through it, and extra blobs in the quiet zone. My barcode reader app interpreted the result as EAN-8. Firefox sorted itself out though, and now I can't recreated it.

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  3. What's next? Barcodes that use colours? Probably doable, now that I think of it.

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    Replies
    1. There have been several. KarTrak from the 1960s was probably the first, but there's also CrontoSign (barely used) and High Capacity Color Barcode (patent-encumbered and therefore only used by stupid rich companies).

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  4. 3D printed QR codes next? :) Possibly even a cube with different codes on each face?

    Go on, you know you want to!

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    1. I've looked into that, and the minimum feature size of the printer makes it challenging (especially if you take quiet zones seriously). But I continue to experiment. (I want to produce a "bitcoin" that links to https://davidgerard.co.uk/blockchain/ .)

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  5. Now then. Could there be a privacy concern here? In effect, this URL coding means that the vendor will be able to associate the use of the equipment with an IP address of a user who has had some link to the physical advice, perhaps even to link it to an individual. Such tracking might not be happening in practice, but it raises some interesting questions in this day and age of "Cyber Security" and "Data Privacy". Just some musings.

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    1. An IP does not identify an individual. However, the same concerns apply to anyone accessing any URL ever. All we could link together is serial number of a device to an IP, no individuals involved here!

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    2. Yes, very good point. Isn't it funny how in this day and age so many people (including myself from time to time!) make the mistake of thinking an IP address is the same as a user. The general public's understanding of technology is exemplified in this funny YouTube clip:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DttOQhE0ksg


      Also, this innovative approach to using QR codes could make it very convenient for registering a device. Just scan the QR code and no need to input long serial numbers and suchlike.

      On a broader topic, I for one find it highly refreshing that companies like A&A take privacy so seriously. In this day and age of all and sundry wanting to censor the Internet and control what news we all see and read, it's great that some companies still take a 'purist' view and just focus on providing the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure. My analogy would be that some ISPs are akin to libraries where you can go to read any newspaper you like, but the only newspapers on offer are those that have been vetted to meet the approval of the librarian's own political views.

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    3. Sorry everyone, I think put the wrong URL in my previous post. The one I meant to use was this one:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8lgFak3RwU

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    4. >> Also, this innovative approach to using QR codes could make it very convenient for registering a device. Just scan the QR code and no need to input long serial numbers and suchlike. <<

      That was my thought as well - perhaps a page showing the warranty status (Expires ...), latest upgrade version available, link to download manual etc: obviously nothing which will identify the user, but enough to help them.

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    5. Quite - we have linked to the model specifically so people can get the quick start guide and so on.

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