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The Quick Response (QR) code is a two-dimensional code developed by the Japanese company Denso Wave in 1994. Due to an automatic error correction, this method is very robust and therefore widely used. Further developments are the Micro-QR-Code, the Secure-QR-Code (SQRC), the iQR-Code and the Frame QR Code.
The QR code was developed for marking assemblies and components for logistics in automotive production at the Toyota Group. Denso, the company developing the QR Code, has been cooperating with Toyota since its spin-off from the Group in 1949 as a supplier for all electrical and electronic assemblies, among other things. The 2D code was developed by the subsidiary Denso Wave, which also develops identification systems and devices for mobile data acquisition. The QR code was developed in 1994 by Masahiro Hara and his team members Takayuki Nagaya, Motoaki Watabe, Tadao Nojiri and Yuji Uchiyama.
Masahiro Hara and his team won the audience award of the European Inventor Award of the European Patent Office in the category "Non-European States" in 2014.
The QR code consists of a square matrix of black and white squares that represent the encoded data in binary form. A special marker in three of the four corners of the square provides orientation. The data in the QR code is protected by an error correcting code. This tolerates the loss of up to 30% of the code, i.e. it can still be decoded.
The QR code can be printed with all common methods without any problems. As with the barcode, however, the highest possible contrast is important, ideally black on white. Depending on the possibilities of the reader used, an inverse display is also possible. It is also possible to print the code in colour. However, care must be taken to ensure that the code has an even contrast when viewed as a halftone image or as a line image. Increasingly, the QR code is also applied to products in the so-called "direct marketing" process. For example, they are burned directly onto the surface of the material to be marked using a laser. These QR codes can be very small and are very durable.
There is no limit to the display size of the QR code as long as the reader can capture the image full-frame and differentiated. Poster walls and entire house facades have already been provided with a single QR code.
In addition to their original use in production logistics, QR codes can now be found in numerous other applications: for example as timetable information and navigation aids at public transport stops to help with shopping lists, to mark pets or as mobile business cards. QR codes are also being used more and more in advertising, as additional information, such as product videos or websites with or without competitions, can be called up quickly or linked directly to the App Store with the option of downloading programs. In Canada's museums, the codes are used to give visitors the opportunity to call up information about individual exhibits or topic complexes that can be accessed via the Internet. In 2012, an interactive first day cover with a stamp series "Marke individuell" by a Leipzig mail order company was published for the first time. The QR code printed on the letter is used here as shop access. QR codes also help with so-called screen transfers, which describe the transfer of an Internet page in the web browser of one device to another.
The first approaches to the use of QR codes can also be seen in the area of life saving. For example, the QR code is now used to access the rescue card for passenger cars.
In the scavenger hunt game Munzee, the QR codes and the GPS coordinates (GPS-enabled smartphone required) serve as a "location-based game" to earn points on the player account when scanning the QR codes. The QR codes are generated on the gaming platform and distributed in the real world.
In Berlin, QR codes were engraved on cobblestones at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, where the virtual concert composed for the Holocaust Memorial can be listened to via app.
A team of researchers from the state of South Dakota has developed a special invisible ink that consists of a mixture of blue and green fluorescent ink with nanoparticles and becomes visible under a NIR laser. QR codes printed with this ink on banknotes or other securities could increase their resistance to counterfeiting.
Because the content of a QR code is not visible at first glance, it is possible to hide a link in it that leads the viewer to a harmful page after scanning or even unintentionally executes functions of his smartphone. However, this applies to all common 2D codes used to encode web addresses and is not a special feature of the QR code.
An attack carried out over such codes ("tags") is commonly referred to as "atagging". At the beginning of September 2010, attacks on mobile phones with Android operating systems became known, in which the ICQ client "Jimm" could be downloaded via a link encoded in a QR code to a website. The software was infected with the Trojan Trojan-SMS.AndroidOS.Jifake.f and unsolicited sent several paid SMS to a Russian premium service. At the beginning of January 2013, the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) warned of over-taped QR codes on billboards that could lead the user to dubious websites.
As protection against attacks, many current scanners initially only display the decoded QR code content instead of executing it immediately, for example, following a link to call up a page. However, many QR code scanners still load the page in advance when displaying the link in the browser, even before it is called up, e.g. to display the page title before it is actually called up a short time after scanning or to accelerate the display, which is why there is a certain potential danger even without direct page call if the scan software is vulnerable when generating the preview.
By manipulating the coding for the exact number of characters contained in the QR code, it is theoretically possible to cause a buffer underrun or a buffer overflow in poorly programmed decoder software. Attacks via SQL injection would also be conceivable, if the further processing software does not have the appropriate protection mechanisms.
A potential hazard may be posed by the application software used, which processes the read data, but not by the QR code itself. The user, in particular of mobile phones, also contributes to a high degree to the risk by handling URLs coded in QR codes with a minimum of care. All the above-mentioned dangers apply equally to all 2D code systems from other manufacturers. By using the Secure QR Code, most sources of danger in professional applications can be eliminated as far as possible.
QR codes can be individualized with a lettering, logo or image and by color change or graphically designed with more effort. The function is retained by a clever approach and misuse of error correction. Such QR codes are often referred to as design QR codes or, in more complex designs, as custom QR codes. Often alienated QR codes are also referred to as iQR codes, but this is factually incorrect because the iQR code is a further developed variant of the QR code.
Design QR codes are not an official further development of Denso Wave.
In the beginning, the design was often limited to a simple exchange of colors. In addition, a lettering or logo as a small pixel graphic can usually be placed in the middle of the QR code or worked directly into it.
A part of the data of the code is simply superimposed by the graphic. The redundancy of the error correction in level "H" makes this possible on an area of up to 30% of the entire code. From a technical point of view, the data part of a design QR code is already disturbed by the superimposed graphics to such an extent that real reading errors can no longer be compensated, which is why this method is not advisable. In most publications, there are better places to place a logo than within a QR code.
Another possibility is to use mathematical methods to include a graphic in a QR code so that the QR code is error-free. For this purpose, the hyperlink is supplemented by a seemingly senseless anchor that has no function of its own.
By linking these methods, complex custom QR codes can now be generated, with the focus on design. QR codes can be specifically adapted to existing corporate designs or integrated into marketing campaigns. Examples are ads dominated by a single, elaborately designed custom QR code, or company logos that are designed directly as custom QR codes. In 2009, Takashi Murakami designed such a corporate QR code on behalf of Louis Vuitton.
The overlaying with logos or illustrations as well as own designs and alienations are legally questionable, since Denso Wave also holds its own patents for these. Denso Wave does not apply patent law to standard QR codes, but not to modified QR codes.
The micro QR code is a variant of the QR code optimized for the smallest dimensions. It was introduced in 2000 by Denso Wave. Instead of the familiar three orientation marks of the QR code, the micro QR code has only one in the upper left corner. A maximum of 35 digits or 21 alphanumeric characters can be coded, but this requires less space.
The Secure QR Code (SQRC) is a QR code with extended functionality for encrypting data content. Denso Wave introduced it in 2005. The SQRC is used in applications in which data content or parts thereof are not to be viewed by third parties. Therefore the SQRC offers the possibility to encrypt the whole content or optionally only a part of the contained data. The public (unencrypted) data in an SQRC can then also be read with normal QR code readers and mobile phones, while the encrypted information remains hidden. In order to read the encrypted data, a reader is required that can decode Secure QR Codes. The appropriate key must be stored in the reader.
The encryption of the data already takes place during the generation of the SQRC. The decryption is part of the decoder in the reader. Additional encryption software at application level is therefore not required. A symmetric key (password) with a length of 8 bytes is required for encryption and decryption.
With the iQR code, Denso Wave, as a current further development of the normal QR code, takes up some of the advantages of the micro QR code and thus surpasses the properties of the normal QR code. As a novelty, it is not necessarily fixed to the square form, but can also assume the shape of a rectangle. This makes it easier, for example, to read cylindrical objects and to use it where a classic barcode is to be replaced by a 2D code, but there is no space for a square. The iQR code also offers a solution for applications that require a lot of data in a small space.
The maximum amount of data has been increased by more than a factor of 4.6 from 177×177 elements to 422×422 elements. This allows more than 40,000 numeric characters to be accommodated in a single code in the largest format (version 61).
As a rectangle, 15 formats from 5×19 elements to 43×131 elements are available. The largest format (version R15) accommodates up to 1,202 numeric characters.
In addition, the iQR code is up to 30% smaller than a standard QR code with the same amount of coded data. It is also even more compact than the Micro-QR code. The smallest possible format (version 1) has 9×9 elements and offers space for 6 characters.
Due to the supported characters, the content can be encoded according to ISO/IEC 15434 (Transfer Syntax). This makes it possible to use many data structures commonly used in industry and commerce, such as UN/EDIFACT segments, GS1 application identifiers or ANS MH10.8.2 data identifiers in accordance with ISO/IEC 15418.
Frame QR is a further development of the QR code that allows you to add your own logos or designs while maintaining redundancy. The drawing area to be kept free is already taken into account when the code is created and can take on different forms.
There are already several basic shapes available as drawing areas (including square, circle, triangle, cross, heart, star with 5 or 6 points), which can be varied by influencing the width, height and rotation angle. However, you can also define your own shape as a drawing area.
For the design, the drawing area, the drawing area frame, the light and dark data points as well as the orientation markers can each be assigned their own colors. The usually square matrix points can also take the form of small circles.
The data matrix itself is placed around the drawing area and dimensioned so that all data is encoded in the selected redundancy level. Unlike so-called design QR codes, which take advantage of this redundancy, no data is lost and the redundancy is retained in full. The redundancy levels L, M, Q and H already used in the original QR code are also available as redundancy levels.
Frame QR is not compatible with conventional QR code and therefore cannot be read with conventional scanners or smartphone applications. Denso Wave provides its own app for iOS and Android free of charge.
Starting in 2007, the QR code also became a theme in contemporary art. Because it conveys a strong optical effect as a digital sign and connects the user with the Internet, it inspires creative people to experiment.
The Bremen-based media artist Michael Weisser started his research on the aesthetics and function of the QR code in 2007. In 2013 he developed QRs, which were declared works of art in terms of colour and form, and designed the campus of the University of Applied Sciences in Kiel as 33 QR benches.
Starting in 2009, designer Frank Haase in Hemer used the QR code in graphics, images and objects. Haase guides the viewer through the colored original QR to his own animations on the Internet. In 2009 the Berlin street art artist Sweza used the QR in sprays. He sprayed the patterns as stencils on house walls. Via the scan of the QR, the user got access to the artist's electronic songs.