Masahiro Hara first developed the square black and white barcodes for the automotive industry.
When Masahiro Hara first became the QR code inventor a quarter of a century ago, the idea was to solve a problem that had nothing to do with public health.
When the idea came to him, he ran off from a lunchtime game of Go to make it happen.
It was the look of the ancient strategy game and the way the stones were arranged on the playing board that inspired the QR code inventor to create the unique barcode. It was in looking at the board that Masahiro Hara envisioned a solution to a problem challenging the clients of the firm where he worked, Denso Wave. These clients were in the Japanese auto industry. They needed a better system for inventory management.
At that time, Hara was a Denso Wave employee who was receiving regular requests to develop an efficient way to improve the management techniques used for the rapidly growing parts range. Workers were seeking an information storage method that was less labor-intensive. Regular barcodes were able to hold only about 20 alphanumeric characters of information. This required each components box to display up to 10 barcodes which had to be individually read.
The QR code inventor imagined a barcode that could hold substantially more information.
That’s exactly how the quick response code worked. Today, it is playing a central role in many of the strategies implemented around the world to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The two-dimensional black and white squares can hold 200 times more information than a conventional barcode. This makes it possible to use them today for anything from contact tracing apps to mobile payments and digital restaurant menus.
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Before the pandemic, it looked as though quick response codes were fading out of use before they could have the chance to truly take off. They were tested in a range of different types of mobile marketing opportunities but were rarely met with much enthusiasm.
When the world suddenly needed to complete as many tasks as possible in a contact-free way, these easy to use, simple to generate, affordable barcodes fit a very specific need.
Near the end of 2020, at the virtual G20 summit, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, called for a “global mechanism” that would employ QR codes for issuing “health certificates” to reinstate international travel.
Despite all the various ways in which it is now being used, the QR code inventor doesn’t regret that it isn’t licensed and that he doesn’t make money from every use. He’s merely glad that it has so many positive uses, including in playing an important role in getting through the pandemic. “I’m pleased it is being used for people’s safety,” he said.