CLEVELAND - Technology that started out in a car manufacturing plant as a way to keep track of parts is making its way into businesses you visit on a daily basis. It's such new technology, it's still unknown to many consumers.
Customers we spoke with outside a west side beverage store had no idea what the unusual looking sign meant.
"It must be some kind of maze or puzzle. If I stand here, I might figure it out," David Coulter said.
We gave the customers a clue. A smartphone will solve the puzzle. Welcome to the world of quick response technology, better known as QR codes.
"It's a barcode that contains information left to right and top to bottom as well. So, it's a two-dimensional bar code," VitreoQR President & CEO, V. Michael Balas explained.
When you scan the code with your smartphone, you get a "quick response." You're taken to a data-rich website that should reveal valuable information.
"A coupon, a discount, a freebie, some added benefit for actually having scanned that code," Balas explained.
Balas is trying to sell businesses on this new marketing tool. It's a tool companies can use for a variety of reasons.
Northcoast Wine & Beer in Cleveland, Ohio, uses their QR code to feature monthly specials. The Cleveland Museum of Art uses QR codes for promotions.
The code is embedded in ads. For one promotion, you're directed to an audio recording for an art museum exhibit when you scan the code.
Balas thinks these codes will be mainstream in the next few years.
"Magazines, buses, taxi cabs, signs, businesses, cards, letterhead, T-shirts, they're going to be everywhere," Balas said.
Balas said they're already everywhere in Japan because the technology has been in use for 10 years.
"The person shopping for groceries can walk up to a head of lettuce, scan the QR code on that lettuce and know instantly which farm it came from, was it organic, were there pesticides used when that head was picked and when it was put on the shelf," Balas said.
It may be years before we see QR codes on store shelves. Businesses are slow to use the technology because there are still bugs in it.
QR codes don't always work
"It's the wild, wild west in QR codes right now. Everybody has their own scanning technology. Everybody has their own QR generating technology," Balas explained.
For example, Balas scanned a QR code at his office with no problem. I wasn't as lucky. Balas made a few tweaks to the code, and my phone accepted it.
Businesses want a zero percent failure rate, but it's just not happening yet. Northcoast is one of the few who didn't wait for perfection.
"The response is like wow, it's something that is new," Northcoast Owner Manny Rei explained.
Rei can monitor the number of scans each day through a computer program. Most days, it's even easier than that.
"A lot of customers I see through my camera system. They are peeking through the window and scanning it." Rei explained.
We showed customers how to scan the code and where it will take them.
"It's pretty cool," Andrew Spence said.
"I will be looking out for them," Tim Cruz said.
By Mid-March, it will be as easy as looking throughout downtown Cleveland. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance is offering free QR code deployment to businesses. You'll see QR codes in real estate buildings and restaurants. If you scan the barcode, you may get a deal for the restaurant or even get a glimpse at the menu.
Best QR code readers
There are a variety of QR code readers on the market. Balas recomends the following scanners:
Android -- Barcode Scanner Zxing
Windows / Blackberry - BeeTagg
iPhone - Denso QRdeCODE - $1.99
CNET also reviewed QR code readers for the iPhone:
Other free apps for iPhone recommended by our staff include i-nigma 4 (only compatible with iPhone 4) and Bakodo.
Be sure to get an app that stores history of your scans, so you can call up information from previous codes.