QR Codes and the Ushahidi Platform

I was recently invited to speak at this year’s Com.Geo conference, to participate as part of panel titled “Expanding GeoWeb to an Internet of Things”. As the name describes, it was about using the internet of things concept in real-world scenarios to augment user experience. This is a cross-post from http://gosdot.com.


QR Codes, also known as 2Dimensional barcodes, are evolving as part of an emerging trend called ‘the internet of things’ which describes the augmentation of real-world objects and locations with meta-data that is stored in computer networks.

Using some sort of sensing device, usually a camera, a computing device effectively scans a code and decrypts whatever values it might contain. This can be used to store messages, links or small files — to the tune of around a few thousand bytes. If you put a QR code on an apple, you’ve essentially turned that apple into a real-world data storage device.

So those are the basics of what they are, below we’ll explore how they can be used for disaster response.

But First the Checkin

With Crowdmap Checkins, Ushahidi introduced an open source platform for semi-social location sharing. But the value in disasters is simple, the user performs a very quick physical movement to log data as opposed to taking 5 minutes to fill out a report. In other words, it’s quick and relatively frictionless to do. But I don’t want you think so much about location, think about the function. Quick data capture. That’s what checkins offer, and similarly QR codes can be used to do the same.

If you think of the QR code as an abstraction of a function (the act of checking in) then it can play the same role, as well others (because it carries more data). Rather than clicking a button in an application, all a user needs to do is scan the code with a smart device and the hidden data inside is revealed. Not to mention the fact that any physical object can become the storing device for this data.


Now, the consideration of using such technology in disaster scenarios relies upon a couple of assumptions. One, that smart devices are available and in use. Two, that a sufficient data connection is available. Three, that a printing device is available and portable. Four, that security is not a huge concern as a well placed Sharpie marker could completely disrupt your plans.

Potential Uses

QR Codes and the Ushahidi Platform
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Okay so we’ve covered the why and the why not, what about the acute uses?

  • Instructions, messages, or media can be coupled with objects as QR or shortcodes
  • Triggers a remote process (real-world API call).
  • Triggers a process on the device itself.
  • Carry information about the device itself.
  • Authentication. Code can serve as an identification measure.

Those are a few of the ideas I came up with. The most interesting to me are encoding functions and processes in the code that are unlocked when scanned. More on this in a future post.

I should add that this post is an exercise in thought, and not something we’re actively working on, although It would be pretty cool. ;-)

4 Responses to “QR Codes and the Ushahidi Platform”

  1. QR Maps – a Chrome browser plug-in. Allows location and direction data from Google Maps to be published as a QR code. Read the QR with a smart phone and use Google Maps/Navigation to get you there. Very slick and fast data transfer. Scenarios – how to get to the aid station, evacuation routes, etc.

  2. soon QR codes will become absolute , we are working on the RF ID devices where the signal could be detected anywhere and the information will be send by secured fiber optic line or IP network to the main database .