Who Invented the QR Code?

As a follow-up to my article “Who Invented the Barcode?”, I thought I would take a look at the QR Code, mostly because it seems that everybody adopted it except me.

My old phone is always full and it asks me constantly to delete apps I don’t often use, like the QR Code reader. When I need it, I always have to install it again. It’s a chore. It’s my problem, I know… Well, the question of today is:

Who Created the QR Code?

Not so fast! You’re not the only one who is not into QR Code. In fact, what is a QR Code? Well, thank you for asking the question. Let’s take a look at what dictionary.com has to say about that:

QR code: Trademark.
“The proprietary name of a matrix barcode that is read by photographing it with the camera of a smartphone or other mobile device that is equipped with a 2D barcode reader.”

Simply said, the QR Code is a barcode. A type of barcode that was developed by a corporation. In this case, it was invented in 1994 by the Japanese automotive company Denso Wave, a Toyota subsidiary. More precisely, it was Masahiro Hara, a Denso Wave employee who invented it. The goal was to use it to track vehicles during manufacturing. The code was designed to allow high-speed component scanning.

Masahiro Hara’s goal was to pack as much information as possible on a 2D barcode, encode kanji, kana, and alphanumeric characters, and make it fast to read. It turned out that adding more information was the way to go. He added position-detecting patterns (the three big squares) to make the code readable at any orientation be it at an angle or upside down. The squares are used to determine the code’s orientation, size, and viewing angles—they allow the code to be read in two directions: top to bottom and right to left, allowing it to house significantly more data.

As for the size of the information packed into one QR code, you can put a link to websites, of course, but also large volumes of data consisting of over 4,200 alphanumeric characters that are encoded into the patterns. Before that, Denso Wave’s workers had to scan multiple barcodes to obtain everything they needed. Not anymore.

A standard QR code is identifiable based on six components: the Quiet Zone (the empty white border around the outside of a QR code), the finder pattern (aka the three squares), the alignment pattern (the other smaller square near the bottom right corner), the timing pattern (an L-shaped line that runs between the three squares), the version information (a small field of information contained near the top–right finder pattern cell), and the data cells (everything else).

If Masahiro Hara was the one with the idea (inspired by playing strategy games apparently), a full team worked on developing it. It needed a whole system to make it usable. Denso didn’t have the resources to develop it fully and decided to open the patents in order to encourage other companies to use QR codes.

When the first mobile phones containing built-in QR readers were marketed in Japan in 2002, it rapidly spread. Weirdly enough, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that helped this great improvement on the barcode to be widely used and adopted outside of Asia.

Today, new versions of QR Codes exist, allowing for even more storage. Plus, it’s everywhere! You can use it to connect to a Wi-Fi Network, to log to a website, to detect counterfeit, and more.

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