2D Barcodes get data from Print to Mobile

20 06 2006

I’ve become interested in the possibilities of 2D Barcodes – in particular, “QR Codes” – and their potential application to mobile learning. While “traditional” barcodes look like zebra stripes, and only store information in one dimension (horizontally), QR Codes look like a square of black and white pixels, and store information both horizontally and vertically. This means that they can hold a lot more data in the same amount of surface area.300 characters converted to QR code

QR Code reading capability can be easily and cheaply integrated with mobile phones or PDAs equipped with a digital camera (as it’s essentially just software that works with a digital camera). Already, (according to this PDF presentation) 30 million mobile phones with QR capability have been purchased in Japan, where they are used for all kinds of applications including advertising, business cards, and posters, to instantly copy information from the physical world into users’ mobile phones or PDAs.

While a standard barcode can only store about 20 digits, a QR Code can store over 7,000 digits, or a maximum of 4,296 alphanumeric characters. To give you an idea of just how much text that is – it’s about an A4 page in Microsoft Word, completely filled with 10-point Times New Roman text.

Unlike RFID Tags, QR Codes could be inexpensively produced by teachers using their desktop computers, and could complement printed materials. Students could simply “scan” the QR Code associated with a page of content to save a mobile “summary” of that topic in their PDA or phone. QR Codes could also be attached to equipment or realia to provide instant access to on-site, location specific learning content, without an RFID tag reader or expensive GPS-capable PDA.

To me, it sounds more realistic and more accessible than other location-specific technologies like RFIDs and GPS, because it doesn’t require specialist equipment (just software: indeed, you can even generate QR Codes online here) to produce the barcodes, making it more accessible for institutions; nor would it require expensive hardware to read the information, making it more accessible for students. In fact, it removes the need for students to retrieve information using (more costly) SMS messaging technologies, such as the system I previously blogged about in NZ. A further advantage of QR codes is they can even be “read” from a computer screen, making them transmissible over the Internet – students wouldn’t even have to print out a QF code to scan it into their mobile device, and this kind of portability and transmissibility is something that just can’t be done with an RFID tag!

Now we just need to convince mobile phone industries that we need 2D barcode readers integrated with mobiles in Australia! The Tokyo city government already uses QR Codes to provide city-wide integration of information with mobile phones – a kind of m-learning.

If there are any interested educators that would like to try creating and decoding QR Codes, I’ve located a couple of free, Java-based applications on this site (Look for the QR Code demos). You’ll need Java Run-time Environment to be able to execute these files.

Barcodes are a part of every day life: bring barcode equipment into your business and increase your profit margin by tracking inventory with barcode printers and a barcode scanner. This way you can print and read your very own barcodes that you made at your own office.

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