The Humble QR Code as an IoT Device

Andy Slote - Director of Customer Success for ObjectSpectrum

May 1, 2024

QR codes are everywhere. From signs in retail stores to Super Bowl commercials, it seems like everyone wants you to scan a code. But are those codes considered IoT devices? First, we have to ask, what qualifies as an IoT device. The goal of IoT has always been to connect as many “things” as possible, so the definition should be comprehensive and include anything that can provide data about a real-world entity providing useful information.

Connectivity often involves a pervasive link between a device and the point where data ingestion occurs, or at least one initiated at will while being active for a predictable, controllable period. However, connectivity can also involve an extremely brief interaction between a device and a “reader,” where data still passes from the connected thing to a destination that provides value in a single transmission.

In the realm of IoT, even the unassuming QR (or Quick Response) code can qualify as a device, delivering data and triggering capabilities when read by compatible imaging equipment. Its versatility is evident when attached to a ‘thing’ (whatever that thing may be), providing a wealth of information such as a description, tracking ID, value, and other attributes.

By efficiently launching a connection upon scanning, a QR code enables a device to connect only when necessary for a specific data need or task. This approach puts you in control, ensuring that data usage is managed effectively. Instead of being “always on,” it only needs to be active when it’s actually being used.

There’s also the advantage of cross-platform usability. Any phone or tablet with a camera can read a QR code. The operating system doesn’t matter. So, whether a person has Apple or Android, they are able to access the web-based link of the QR code.

As an asset or product in a supply chain moves from location to location, the intelligence added by reading a QR code at critical points provides robust tracking capabilities. The identifying information remains static as the item changes location with the readers at different sites, adding a layer of intelligence about the physical location.

Another use is opening a web page in response to a QR code read without enabling a connection to the device.  Upon launching the page, users could input information about the status, location, condition, etc., item to add context.   

When scanning a code, an email or text message could be automatically generated to communicate information about a device, process, etc. This powerful capability ensures standard communication formats and controls who receives the communications, empowering you to streamline processes and enhance communication efficiency.

QR codes have many uses, including augmenting IoT capabilities or serving as a lower-level enabler of a solution. They have the characteristics to enable further connection of everything in the world. Analyzing the possibilities and options they provide definitely qualifies them as an “IoT device.”

So, the next time you see that little box full of alien-looking symbols, know that you’re accessing a small part of the IoT universe.