Section 1: Untold Story of QR Code development
In response to current needs, QR Codes were developed
Japan’s rapid economic growth in the 1960s led to the development of supermarkets selling everything from foodstuffs to clothing.
The price had to be manually entered into cash registers at checkout counters in these stores. Consequently, many cashiers suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and numb wrists.
“The cashiers wished desperately that there was a way to ease their burden.”
This problem was solved by the invention of barcodes. As a result of the development of the POS system, the price of an item of merchandise was displayed automatically on the cash register when the barcode on the item was scanned by an optical sensor, and information about the item was sent to the computer at the same time.
As barcodes spread, their limitations also became apparent. One of the most prominent limitations of barcodes is their capacity to store only 20 alphanumeric characters.
It was asked whether it could be developed barcodes that could hold more information by users who contacted DENSO WAVE INCORPORATED (then a division of DENSO CORPORATION), which was developing barcode readers at the time. As well as alphanumeric characters, we would like Kana and Kanji characters to be coded.”
Out of a sincere desire to accommodate users’ needs, a development team at DENSO WAVE developed a new two-dimensional code in response to these enthusiastic requests.
There are just two members on the development team
During those days, Masahiro Hara, who was in charge of developing the QR Code, remembers that people developing 2D codes at other companies were all obsessed with packing as much information as possible into them.
The information in barcodes can only be encoded in one direction (one dimension). Hara developed a new 2D code that was both easy to read and capable of holding a great deal of information out of a strong desire to develop a code that could be read easily and held a great deal of information. With only one other person on his team, he dared to try this.
The greatest challenge for the team was speeding up the reading of their code. Eventually, he came up with the idea of indicating the existence of a code with positional information.
A position detecting pattern consisting of square marks was developed in this way. High-speed reading was enabled by incorporating these marks into their code.
*Usually, position detection pattern is black.
So far, so good, but why were the marks squares instead of another shape?
Hara explained that this was because “it was the pattern least likely to appear on various business forms.”
If a position detection pattern is used in a code and a similar-looking mark is nearby, the code reader may mistake it for the position detection pattern. It was necessary for their position detection patterns to be truly unique in order to avoid this type of erroneous reading. To investigate this issue, they analyzed the ratio of white to black areas in images printed on fliers, magazines, cardboard boxes, and so on after reducing them to patterns with black and white areas. Innumerable examples of printed matter were inspected all day long for days on end.
They eventually came up with the least used ratio of black and white areas on printed matter. The ratio was 1:1:3:1:1. The widths of the black and white areas in the position detection patterns were determined this way.
By searching for this unique ratio, they were able to determine the orientation of their code regardless of the angle of scanning, which could be any angle out of 360°.
A QR Code capable of coding about 7,000 numerals and Kanji characters was finally developed after an innumerable and repeated round of trial and error. In addition to storing a lot of information, this code could also be read more than 10 times faster than other codes.
Section 2 : The QR Code was released and efforts were made to spread its use.
DENSO WAVE (then a division of DENSO CORPORATION) released the QR Code in 1994. QR stands for quick response, expressing the development concept of the code, which focuses on high-speed reading.
Even Hara, one of the original developers, couldn’t predict whether it would be accepted as a two-dimensional code to replace barcodes when it was announced. His confidence in the code’s performance led him to introduce it to companies and industry organizations in hopes it would become known and used by as many people as possible.
Furthermore, DENSO WAVE’s decision to make the QR Code specifications public so anyone could use them freely contributed greatly to spreading the use of the code.
While DENSO WAVE would retain the patent rights, it declared that it would not exercise them. From the very beginning of the code development, the developers intended that the QR Code could be used by as many people as possible. Consequently, the QR Code, which could be used without cost and without worrying about potential problems, became a “public code”.
The code became widely used by the general public in Japan in 2002. The marketing of mobile phones with QR Code-reading capabilities facilitated this trend.
Section 3 : Global expansion and evolution of the QR Code
QR Codes are open codes that anyone can use, so they are used not just in Japan, but all over the world. Its use spread as its rules were stipulated and the code was standardized. In 1997, it was approved as an AIM standard* for use in the automatic identification industry. In 1999, it became a standard 2D code and a standard 2D symbol on the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association’s EDI standard transaction forms*. It was also approved as one of the ISO’s international standards in 2000.
Section 4 : The creator’s passion for QR codes
Developed in Japan to promote industrial design in its entirety, the QR Code won the Media for Industry category in 2012.
The QR Code received this award due to its developer taking on the challenge of developing a variety of codes through designing, having the foresight to place its technologies in the public domain from the early stages of development, and designing a system that has allowed people to use the code in their daily lives naturally.