They could be the most ignored bit of technology in today's society, but their real potential could soon be unlocked, and it's pretty cool.
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QR codes may be among the most widely seen but little used and understood pieces of technology in the 21st century. Really, ask your family members how often they've used one this Thanksgiving and watch the conversation grind to a halt. But a team of engineers has devised a way to unlock the real potential of those strange little boxes...to embed holograms throughout the real world, with or without a data connection.
"We have developed a method of using QR codes along with off-the-shelf mobile device technology such as smartphones to enable encrypted 3D information to be securely displayed on mobile devices," Bahram Javidi, leader of the team from the University of Connecticut and co-author of a paper in the journal Optica, said in a release.
You might call them QR codes 2.0 -- these next-generation codes store much more than a link to a coupon for another bag of Mountain Dew-flavored Doritos.
"The QR codes we developed store compressed and encrypted images, which can be easily scanned, decrypted and decompressed by commercial smartphones for secure 3D visual communication," explains Javidi. (But not yet. More on that below.)
Because the 3D imagery data is actually stored within the QR code itself, what are essentially small 3D holograms can be accessed with or without a data connection. Imagine taking a hike down to the floor of the Grand Canyon and being able to use small QR codes on interpretive stations to pull up mini-holograms on your smartphone of the various wild animals that live there.
Not sure if your smartphone is capable of projecting 3D images? That's because it probably isn't. A special array of tiny lenses called "lenslets" needs to be placed on top of a smartphone screen to display the 3D image.
Also, although a standard QR reader app should be enough to acquire the data, a special app will be needed to decrypt it and decompress it. According to Javidi, this app doesn't exist yet, "but it can be easily developed."
In addition to their special content Javidi and his team say their QR codes are also more secure, in part because they do not rely on the Internet to be useful.
Right now the technology is still in the concept development stage, but Javidi believes we can look forward to using QR codes to access 3D images on our phones in the near future.
Perhaps this technology will also help us to finally unlock the truth, that we are all trapped in a QR code being projected on a smartphone containing our entire universe.