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  • Writer's picturePeter

Flying robots make a giant QR code in the sky... but is it scannable?

First and foremost, a tip of the hat to the engineers making a QR Code in the sky of Shanghai for millions of people to scan:

Talk about getting your message out there, it's tough to beat this one. I know a lot of marketing and advertising folks who dream of a QR code in the sky that loads a simple page to buy a specific product with a few finger taps within 30 seconds . And that will be happening routinely in the future, I'm sure.

But I couldn't help but notice a problem.

Well, two actually.

And it's worth discussing theses issues within the QR Code industry. I have seen these problems a lot and the industry is largely silent on addressing them, and as a result a lot of unnecessary frustration for customers (or scanners) has occurred.

Problem #1: The QR Code made in the sky in the above video is the wrong color.

Specifically, each dot is a bright white on a black sky background, rather than the QR Code standard, which calls for dark dots on a brighter background. I've seen this tonal inversion used by many people as a design choice to make their QR Code look nicer on its medium, say round white dots on a black car window for example. And it's understandable people do this: QR Codes aren't the prettiest of things, and any designer alteration to make them look nicer or more interesting, well... trust me, we here at ACME understand that need.

But why is color variation a problem?

Problem #2:

Scanning software on cellphones is highly variable and constantly changing.

Over the last 6 years, we've watched the forces of silicon valley push and pull for and against QR Codes. We've seen QR Codes arrive as standard software on phone operating systems one day, only to see them go away the next. But we knew the overwhelming force of a free and open standard would eventually dominate, and it has; QR Code scanning is now a standard feature of all the major cellphone operating system's default camera software.

However, we think that many of the people in the video above couldn't scan the QR code. Why? because the code was white points on a dark background, rather than black points on a white background. This tonal inversion confuses the scanning software on many cellphones because it is backwards of what the software is expecting.

The drone operators could have solved this by making their drones form a stencil (an ACME standard feature by the way), so that the dark sky behind the drones became the dark dots, so the QR code would have been fully within the specifications of a standard QR Code. Not all cellphone software is this sensitive, but certainly many are. The inconsistency among those software programs is a function of both brands of cellphones, and time as software updates change the software on people's phones.

One day your cellphone may scan a QR code with circles, another day it will not. One day your cellphone may scan an inverted tone QR code, the next day it will not. One day your cellphone will scan a QR code with 50% black covering each tile area of a code, the next day it will only scan if 90% coverage exists.

This lack of consistency is a source of frustration as we here at ACME and many other companies work to make QR Codes more visually unique, but still work.

Ultimately we'd like to see a unified opening of tolerance of QR Codes to allow for much more arbitrary tile shapes, and tonal color options.

But until then, the only way to offer assurance that your QR code will scan is to make sure each tile is dark and covers at least 90% of its tile space, with the background being as light as possible.

ACME animated QR Codes offer a unique solution to this problem: your QR Code will still scan with 100% reliability within the stricter standards requiring full square and black tiles on a white background, but because of our brief animations of your QR Codes, they will be highly branded to your company or product.

And they'll be the coolest part of your advertisement.

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