Advantages of free: QR code

The small black dots and white spaces, blended into a square grid, have become a treasure for every vehicle owner since last week, as they are the only hope for fuel when the tank runs dry. The “QR code” has become a new household word in Sri Lanka, as it is no longer possible to pump fuel into any hangar.

As part of the fuel rationing system in place, amid a very limited fuel supply across the country in the face of the current currency shortage, a weekly quota has been secured for all users using the QR Coded.

With this technology, long fuel queues have eased, the black market in fuel has diminished, and violence, other irregularities and altercations at pumping stations have decreased. For a country, which has already seen the death of around twenty people in fuel queues, this is a relief. Many people said it should have been introduced much earlier.

The success of the QR code-based National Fuel Pass shows that Sri Lankans, in general, are tech-savvy enough to use this system for many other purposes as well. As the QR Code has become a convenient and efficient way to deal with the fuel crisis, the same technology can be applied in innovative ways to address many other issues or to make daily tasks more convenient for people. What is lacking is not ability, but initiative coupled with will.

Evolution

QR is an acronym for “Quick Response”, and as the words themselves reflect, the QR Code allows the user to instantly access encoded information when scanned. Although it is a square-shaped grid which looks simple, it can store a lot of data, but only a digital device can read it. Most smartphones used today are able to read them because they have built-in QR scanners. Otherwise, applications (Apps) to read them are readily available on the ‘Apple App Store’ and ‘Google Play’.

Opening the camera or QR scanning app on the smartphone and pointing it at the QR code will direct you to the information stored there in seconds. The three black squares in the lower left, upper left and upper right corners of the QR code, called the “search pattern”, help the digital device identify the code.

QR codes are considered the next generation of barcodes. Unlike standard barcodes, which can only be read top-to-bottom (one-dimensional), QR codes are read top-to-bottom as well as right-to-left (two-dimensional), allowing them to store more data. A QR Code can contain 7,000 characters compared to 20 with the one-dimensional barcode.

Another marvel of the QR Code is that it can be read even if it is crooked or skewed or even damaged. This was possible using two separate features called “alignment pattern”, another square or smaller squares in the code, and “sync pattern”, an L-shaped line that extends between the three squares of the search pattern.

The rest of the QR code communicates the actual information encoded in it, such as a website address (a Uniform Resource Locator URL), phone number, or message. The blank area on all sides of the QR code allows readers to optically place where the QR code begins and ends.

The QR Code is another proud invention of the Japanese. Its birth dates back to 1994, when a development team led by engineer Masahiro Hara of the automobile company Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota, created an improved version of the barcode that could easily track automobiles and auto parts. during manufacturing. Although “Denso Wave” retains the patent rights to the QR code, it said it would not exercise them, thus making it publicly available for anyone to create and use QR codes.

Hara, who is dubbed the “Father of the QR Code”, might not have imagined then that his invention would redefine the digital world and people would soon be scanning QR Codes even on the street. QR codes gained momentum around the world starting around 2010 and today they are in common use.

National efforts

QR codes have also been used for several years in Sri Lanka, but in a limited way, as only a handful of people understood and used this system until recently.

In 2020, the government used QR codes during the COVID-19 outbreak to trace contacts of infected people. QR check-ins at all workplaces and retail outlets have been encouraged by the “Stay Safe” program launched by the Information and Communications Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka, but at the same time, a guest register was also maintained at these sites for those unfamiliar with QR code scanning. Other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, UK, China and Russia have also used QR recordings during the pandemic to track exposure to the coronavirus and thus slow its spread.

When it comes to the National Fuel Pass, everyone has to comply with the QR code requirement because no other options were offered, but that’s the very reason that made it a success. The Fuel Pass has taken the nationwide awareness of QR codes to a whole new level.

“The whole system should be under the QR Code, if it is to be successful, because it is the only way to identify the vehicle number or the equipment, to whom the fuel is given, and the owner , and thus prevent people from exploiting or excusing the system, which is the biggest challenge we have had,” ICTA President Jayantha De Silva told the Daily News.

De Silva, who first floated the idea of ​​a QR-based system for rationing fuel when he was also secretary of the technology ministry, said it was adopted following a discussion with all stakeholders.

“It’s a simple system that can be used by hangar owners and the public at no cost, where other technical solutions are expensive. The government has not spent any money to develop the system. Although some were reluctant and skeptical at first, I was confident it would work well. When you opt for a national program, the challenges are many. We are moving step by step,” he commented.

Responding to a question about the personal data he collects, the President assured that all the conditions of the Personal Data Protection Act, which was enacted in March this year, were met throughout the process. “We only collect very basic information such as name, ID card number, vehicle number, chassis number and mobile phone number, etc. In the current context, this information is available everywhere “, he replied.

Cashless payments

Now that the public’s understanding of QR codes has improved, it might be time to promote other uses of QR codes, which will be useful for people in their daily work and businesses.

In October 2020 and again in November last year, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) launched the nationwide rollout of the digital payment solution “LANKAQR” which enables consumers to make payments merchants and service providers directly from their bank account by scanning a QR Code with their mobile phone.

It allows consumers to pay from a payment application provided by any LANKAQR certified bank or financial institution. A total of 24 payment applications provided by 21 financial institutions in Sri Lanka were certified for the above purposes as of the end of last year.

Customers are not charged for using LANKAQR-based payments, but merchants must pay a nominal fee to the relevant bank. The objective of the project is to promote a cashless economy in Sri Lanka. However, in a context where even the use of ATM cards for payments is not at a satisfactory level in Sri Lanka and some people still use ATM cards only to withdraw cash to the nearest distributor, the promotion of the QR Code payment-based payment system has been difficult. Moreover, many taxi drivers prefer cash payments to payments by cards or QR Codes.

Even though initial adoption of the idea was slow in the country, QR codes are increasingly being adopted for commercial purposes. QR codes are frequently used to track product information in a supply chain, as well as marketing and advertising, because they are faster than manually entering information.

“Barcodes have been used for a long time in many places in Sri Lanka, but QR codes are a better system. It can be used for various purposes as the QR code can be configured according to one’s needs. Most companies opt for very sophisticated methods, such as radio frequency identification (RFID), which are expensive. The QR Code is a very simple and almost free system. The people have now understood its value. It will definitely gain momentum in Sri Lanka in the future,” noted the ICTA Chairman.

Other uses

However, QR codes are not without some security risks. Sometimes users may be directed to malicious URLs to extract data from mobile phone or phishing website to steal personal or financial information. To avoid them, mobile users should be wary only of scanning QR codes from a trusted source.

The newspaper industry has been using QR codes lately to provide readers with additional information such as video clips and new features such as listening to articles via a voice assistant. When it comes to newspaper and magazine advertising, QR Code can attract more readers if used in an innovative way. For example, if it is a car that is advertised, the QR Code can provide a short video of the car or its three-dimensional images, including the interior, so that people can figure it out.

Although not widely used in Sri Lanka, QR codes can be used in education to direct children to useful web links to learn more about what is being taught, or to allow them to copy or easily download relevant tutorials.

Additionally, QR codes are frequently used to authenticate online accounts and verify login information and to access Wi-Fi by storing encryption information. These days, QR codes in restaurants take customers straight to the menu, allowing them to order instantly without having to wait for a waiter to come to the table. QR codes are often found in entertainment and gaming experiences. There are new uses for the QR code, such as determining the position of objects in “augmented reality”.

These are just a few of the ways QR codes are used in various fields. In some countries, QR codes have become so popular that they represent the dead on tombstones. People visiting the cemetery can read online tributes of the dead, or more information about that deceased person’s life and career by scanning the QR code in a headstone.

(Information from official or trusted websites on the Internet has been used in the article to support its content)

LANKAQR payment method on highways