At Case Western Reserve University, a student points her cell phone's camera at a poster advertising a campus event. Now she's got directions, the start time and related info, via a linked Web page. It's all thanks to a novel program at the college that lets anyone with a case.edu e-mail address scan barcodes in various locations and translate them into Web content using their cell phones. The university's Cleveland, Ohio campus is the first large-scale test site in the United States for mobile "2D codes" or "quick response (QR) codes," according to a Case release.
The codes look like typical barcodes that you might find on a cereal box, but they contain Web URLs.
To employ the codes, users sign up for the service at MobileDiscovery.com with their Case e-mail addresses. After the account is confirmed via e-mail, the user gets a text message with links to download the appropriate software. Then students, faculty members or other Case users need only initiate the software and choose the on-screen Capture option, says Bob Sopko, Case Western's manager of strategic technology partnerships. One hitch: While the software is running, the camera can no longer be used to take photographs.
The software works on most new camera phones with Web access, and it's not operating system or browser specific, Sopko says
Case Western is currently working with Mobile Discovery, 2D code company Scanbuy, and a handful of U.S. wireless carriers. It hopes to eventually use the codes at campus shuttle bus stops for status updates on GPS-equipped vehicles, on various banners, and in student magazines and newspapers.
Users can also login in to a Web portal and create 2D codes that link to their own Web content. And the codes can be printed on any material, so t-shirts and other clothing can contain the bar codes.
The university first used the 2D codes during its fall freshman orientation. In the past, incoming students participated in scavenger hunts that called for groups to find objects around campus to collect information on notable sites. During the most recent orientation, group leaders used Sprint handsets with the 2D-code-scanning software to read barcodes at such sites and gather the appropriate information.
Case Western chemistry professor Mike Kenney also plans to use the 2D codes inside his classroom. Kenny will soon run a pilot test of a new student survey tool that lets professors ask questions to classes and quickly collect answers or feedback from students' cell phones, according to the university news release.
Sopko suggests organizations could use a similar system to collect information from executives during a board meeting, or garner feedback on new initiatives in large company meetings.
There's also enormous potential for businesses in the 2D code technology, Sopko says. For instance, real estate companies could put codes on for-sale signs or banners draped over properties to lead interested parties to online virtual tours. Hardware stores could tag new products with codes that lead customers to Web demonstrations or instructions. Movie posters with the codes could link to trailers. And grocery stores could tag certain food items to link to preparation instructions or recipes, Sopko says.
"Whatever information one might search the Web for can be found using a 2D code," Sopko says.