QR codes: Enhancing your Zoo Experience one scan at a time!

As a little guy in my hometown, the local grocery store still employed cashiers who had to type in the price for everything you bought. If there was no price tag, they either called for the manager over the intercom or turned on that blinking light. Oh, how I hated that blinking light. It was torture being in that line to begin with, and when that light came on, I knew we were in for the long haul. And if Momma had coupons, well, you might as well make yourself comfortable in the front of the grocery buggy because you weren’t leaving any time soon.

Then came bar codes, those gloriously convenient and irreparably ugly lines that removed all need for price tags. The first commercial (i.e., successful) use of bar codes actually showed up in Ohio 3 years before I was gifted to the world. In 1974, Cashier Sharon Buchanan scanned herself into the history books in a Troy, Ohio grocery store when she efficiently rang up a coded pack of gum.

“WHOOSH! BEEP! CHA-CHING! Thanks for stopping by, here’s your gum, have a nice day! NEXT!”

Since that first speedy check-out, everything that can’t run away gets a bar code stamped onto it. It’s funny that today we can’t imagine waiting in line for the cashier to type in everything that we’re buying. Indeed, we can’t even wait for the cashier – thus the self-scan lines. Although dragging my groceries across those over-used machines at the self-scan lanes typically sends me into total emotional Armageddon (Me against the Machine), I can’t deny the simplicity and utility of the bar code.

Why am I going on and on about bar codes, you ask? Well, my friends, I have good news for you.

Gayl Underwood, a Masters student in the Advanced Inquiry Program, is working with me and Shasta Bray in Education, Michelle Curley in Marketing and Advertising, and Greg Hanson in Graphics to bring the utility of bar codes to our Zoo guests. Very soon, you will begin to see small, square, squiggly codes on exhibit signs here at the Zoo. QR codes, or Quick Response Codes, look only vaguely similar to the typical bar code that we’re all used to seeing, but QR codes are being used widely on product packaging and highway billboards to advertise everything from ice cream to new cars. In fact, QR codes were invented for the auto industry back in 1994, and are only recently being used for more than just guiding car buyers to photos of shiny new rides. A few Zoos and museums (and now us!) have begun to use them on exhibits to provide information to the public about the animal or plant they’re seeing.

Below is a QR code that – when read with a QR code reader – will take you to our Advanced Inquiry Program website:

Or, for the softies among us, this QR code:

will take you to a video of our baby African Crested Porcupine. Look how cute that thing is (the Porcupine, not the QR code)!

Of course, if you actually want to read these QR codes, you need a QR code reader, but if you have a smart phone with a camera, you’re in luck! There are several QR code reader Applications that you can download onto your smart phones, and some of these are FREE! They literally turn your smart phone into a QR code reader. Once you have the App, you just need to take a photo of the QR code, and the App will take you to the appropriate website, MP3 file, or whatever it is that the QR code is coded for. It really is that easy! This should be exciting for everyone because very soon you’ll be able to use your smart phone and QR code reader to enhance your experience here at the Zoo with videos, MP3s and links to informational websites.

Be on the look out for QR codes on some of our exhibits, but please – whatever you do – don’t pull out your smart phones and zap the QR codes on billboards while driving down I-75. Make your passengers do it. Then show them the baby Porcupine. Man, that’s good stuff.