You've almost certainly seen them. QR codes are those square "bar codes" that increasingly appear in advertisements and other printed media. Now they're showing up at trailheads and on dog collars, allowing smart phone users to scan them and instantly get a wealth of relevant online information, such as electronic trail maps and pet owner information.
I recently encountered my first QR code-enabled trailhead sign while walking at Memorial Forest in Sudbury, Mass. Sudbury Valley Trustees—the property owner and manager—had attached a small one-inch-diameter laminated QR code to the side of its trailhead kiosk. Upon scanning it with their smart phones, visitors were instantly linked to an electronic trail map of the property, which displayed on their phone for ready navigation. (A range of free apps for reading QR codes can be downloaded on both iPhone and Android platforms.)
I believe that, as slick as this is, it's still just the first primitive iteration of what we'll be seeing in the near future. I have no doubt that soon you'll be able to scan trailhead QR codes for an immediate update on current trail and weather conditions, as well as the ability to quickly and conveniently download descriptions that detail highlights and step-by-step directions for recommended loops or outings. It may even be possible to laser-cut them directly into trail signs, as Jared Downs demonstrated with this prototype sign for the White Mountains.
There's also tremendous safety potential. By scanning a relevant code, you could also provide a real-time log of your most recent location—if the worst happened, your loved ones and/or the authorities would know where to go look for you.
High-Tech Pet Collars
QR codes are also starting to appear on dog collars to help wayward pets make their way back to their owners. A traditional jangly collar tag might include the animal's name and a single emergency contact phone number, but little additional information about the dog's owners or the dog itself, which can be a potential issue if the animal has any pertinent medical, health, or dietary needs that might affect its care.
For a nominal amount ($13 to $20) you can now purchase a QR code tag for your dog's collar from PetHub. The code links to a profile page you create for free on the PetHub site, which can include multiple contact phone numbers, email addresses, and detailed information about the animal.
It's Just the Beginning
There's little doubt that these applications represent only the beginning of a more connected outdoor future, when anything and everything can be quickly and easily linked to the infinite information available on the internet. If you don't yet have a QR-ready smart phone, just wait. In the very near future, I have little doubt that every new cell phone sold will have this capability. The bigger barrier to their use will be the availability of cellular networks, which will likely remain unavailable in many backcountry destinations for years, or even decades, to come.
Have you seen any other neat outdoor applications for QR codes? Encountered any at trailheads or other outdoor destinations? Please let me know!!
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.
Labels: Dogs, GPS, Phones