GIS and Quick Response Codes

Mark Altaweel


As smart phones and Quick Response Codes (QR codes) have become ubiquitous, it perhaps should not be surprising we are beginning to see applications integrating QR code data with GIS. While this is still a relatively nascent area of GIS, as relatively few applications apply such data, real-time applications using smartphones and GIS together are an area of substantial potential growth. For instance, one type of practical application is in providing indoor navigation capacity. In fact, this area has seen relative promise for QR code applications, as few options exist for navigation without the use of GPS data. In this case, QR codes provide location information or even information about the item in a given location. That information can be scanned, informing the user if they have arrived to the desired indoor destination, and provided with potentially other additional information.[1]

Other more typical usage of QR codes in GIS include information provided about a given location that can be overlaid or added to a given map, providing information about specific features of interest.[2] These types of applications are now possible using popular platforms such as Google Earth or ArcGIS. However, a potential area of new growth, where the use of QR codes is still in its infancy, is for users to provide feedback and data such that information can be updated or even added using established QR codes. There are existing applications that provide dynamic QR codes; however, this is relatively rare in GIS. The benefit of dynamically created QR codes or updated information within existing QR codes has potential to deliver geospatial and dynamic data for a wide range of applications.[3] For instance, in retail, products that are depleted from shelves could be scanned and information about how many products are left for a given aisle can be given to users. There are hurdles to this type of dynamic update; however, we are seeing applications that can modify base URLs, enabling dynamic data to then be displayed to smart devices.

QR code corresponding to the pane of a geosite.  Source: Martínez-Grata, Goy, & Chimaera, 2013.
QR code corresponding to the pane of a geosite. Source: Martínez-Grata, Goy, & Chimaera, 2013.


[1] For information on applications applying QR codes in navigation, see:  Raj, C. P. R., S. Tolety, and C. Immaculate. 2013. “QR Code Based Navigation System for Closed Building Using Smart Phones.” In , 641–44. IEEE. doi:10.1109/iMac4s.2013.6526488.

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[2] For an example of QR codes and GIS for information on geological formations, see: Martínez-Graña, A.M., J.L. Goy, and C.A. Cimarra. 2013. “A Virtual Tour of Geological Heritage: Valourising Geodiversity Using Google Earth and QR Code.” Computers & Geosciences 61 (December): 83–93. doi:10.1016/j.cageo.2013.07.020.

[3] For information on dynamic QR codes and examples, see:  Okazaki, Shintaro, Hairong Li, and Morikazu Hirose. 2012. “Benchmarking the Use of QR Code in Mobile Promotion: Three Studies in Japan.” Journal of Advertising Research 52 (1): 102–17.

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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.