2D Bar Codes and humanitarian logistics

The 2D bar code or QR Code at left was created by the folks over at Wikipedia.  The welcome note to the left of the code is contained within the matrix of the design.  According to some folks I met last weekend at FooCamp up to 1/2 page of information can be stored within a QR Code.  For example, the entire contents of one shipment could be consolidated into the image above.  The information contained in the image can then be extracted by using a simple software app in a mobile phone with a built in camera.  ScanLife currently enables people to extract data from similar EZCodes that are now appearing outside many eateries in downtown San Francisco.  You can walk up, snap a pic of the EZCode posted next to the establishment’s front door and ScanLife will give you all the news and reviews available on the web.  (Here is an SFGate.com article about the trend.)   I was also told that in Japan almost every business card comes embossed with a QR Code.  When you meet someone, and after accepting their card, you snap a pic of their code and all of the other person’s contact information is immediately entered into your phone.

The light bulb went off for me when I read John Biggs’ post about ScanBuy and ScanLife over at TechCrunch.  Here’s the catchy little YouTube video that ScanLife created and that accompanies John’s post:

With the ScanLife application running on the new iPhone 3G (or any of the Nokia Nseries) I could theoretically scan an invoice in the bush, even if the packing slip had been lost en route, and the contents of the shipment would then appear in my phone after being resolved against the server over my slow but useful WiFi network plugged into my VSAT or BGAN.  I could then compare the count against what is listed and determine if any loss had occurred.  I could also update HQ giving them the location, date and time that the shipment was received as well as any other relevant data.  From what I understand EZCodes can be generated at your work station using a standard printer and a shipment can be scanned into the system using a webcam.

The power that this puts into the hands of your avergae logistics officer is astounding.  Now, perhaps logistics officers have already started using this technology in their supply chains but I haven’t heard of any.  If you have, please let me know.  Please comment this one death as I’d like to learn a lot more!

UPDATE:  Read all the comments following the TechCrunch post as there are a lot of great links to numerous other options.

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