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QR Codes + Trail Signs
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Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

QR Codes + Trail Signs on 06/15/2011 09:39:56 MDT Print View

Project Update....Been exploring the use of QR Codes with Signs.

-Testing Materials for the signs
-Laser Cut prototype QR codes
-Laser Cut prototype trail sign with QR code

Intended user -- Beginner to intermediate. (With a heavier focus on intermediate hikers; experts would be able to use this too)

The way I see this potentially used is the hikers who have smartphones (I do understand not all hikers have smartphones) would get the App, which would be a web based App with content that enables use with out the internet. Through out the hike the Hiker could scan the QR codes getting updates along the way about various bits of information that can be useful.

The hiker would be able to sync the App with an online profile that would allow for transfering information and seeing a log of everything in one place (ie, storing all the info on your profile)

Attached are a few pictures:

QR Code + Material Exploration

QR code on Trail Sign

Sign being read by an existing QR App, just for testing

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

QR Signs on 06/15/2011 10:01:34 MDT Print View

Sorry about the poor quality of this photo, scanner is down so I took a quick picture of it.

Just a page explaining how to go about developing a way to modify existing signs without replacing them and another way to redesign the sign for when replacing the existing sign is an option.

Sign Sketches

Edited by jared.downs on 06/15/2011 10:02:05 MDT.

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Re: QR Codes + Trail Signs on 06/15/2011 10:04:29 MDT Print View

I don't have a smart phone, but I still love QR codes. Also anything laser etched. This is awesome, and the Presidentials are actually one place where I remember having reception while on a hike. Get this to AMC. :)

Edit: So here's my question. I'm on a trail with my smartphone and this app. I come across one of these signs, but I don't have coverage. Does the app have an onboard database that it keys into to still give me that data?

Edited by dsmontgomery on 06/15/2011 10:10:10 MDT.

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

AMC on 06/15/2011 10:10:19 MDT Print View

Devin- Thanks for the positive feedback!

Answer to your Question - Yes, there would be a certain information that is kept with in the App that does not require internet. But when you do have service the App can talk to your online profile to send and grab information. Once off trail my thoughts are that once you sync the App with the website all the info from your trip is transfered as well as the App is updated with new data.

I've actually been in contact with many members from the AMC. I've spoken with the trail crews that replace the signs and am getting in contact with the USFS as I was told the USFS would like to standardize all signs along trails rather than having dozens of signs formatted differently.

My ultimate goal is that upon completing this for my senior thesis is to form a non-profit that works with groups such as the AMC, ATC, USFS, SAR groups and so on. Not looking to get rich from this, looking to make the app and keep it free since QR codes are open source. If it is able to make it to the point of being a non-profit then I'd just be looking to make it so the service is free but some how raises enough funding to keep afloat.


Edited by jared.downs on 06/15/2011 10:24:21 MDT.

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Re: AMC on 06/15/2011 10:44:05 MDT Print View

Well, please keep us updated here. I don't know if you're a coder, too, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was someone on these forums that could do it (I've seen at least a simple gearlist app come through).

Also, let me know if there's anything I can do to help. I've been able to get some pretty good funding for a hiking stove I developed here (called the Backcountry Boiler) and also have a background in non-profit development.

But it sounds like you're doing the right things - get the concept fully-baked, get the necessary gov agencies to sign-off, then seek gov., foundation, corporate, and individual funding.

Right on!

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

Re: Re: AMC on 06/15/2011 10:58:01 MDT Print View

No way man! Completely spaced on connecting the dots....big congrats on getting your Backcountry Boiler kickstarted! Saw that all over the place from Core77 to Kickstarter.

As for being a coder, unfortunately I am not one (Industrial Designer) but have graphic design skills that I will utilize in developing the User Interface as well as how the App works. I go to a computer/tech college in Boston, MA. Wentworth Institute of Technology, so my plan was to find a Computer Science major and pay them to code it for me (not sure how much it will cost, but I know people shouldn't work for free so I'll try and offer something). But if there are any guys and gals on here that have coding experience by all means feel free to contact as any and all help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks for the support! I'm excited to see how far I can get this to go.

Just set up to be an Apple developer. Figured it made the most sense to develop on the iOS platform first then take it to the Android once I am able to get a working App rather than trying to develop the same thing on two seperate OS platforms while not having a finalized set of parameters.

roberto nahue
(carspidey) - F

Locale: san fernando valley
coder here!!! on 06/15/2011 14:46:46 MDT Print View

I am a computer programmer (Comp Sci major and masters)... i have not developed any code for Iphones yet but be interested in trying... let me know if you need any help... pm me and i'll reply with my email...

Also, a comment on the QR codes... i have only been backpacking recently but on the few trails that i've gone most of the signs are 80 to 90 percent visible (some more, some less)... how do you plan on keeping the QR signs visible enough for the pattern recognition software to work correctly?

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
A killer idea on 06/15/2011 16:06:04 MDT Print View

Jared, I think you've got a killer idea there and some excellent concepts for how the signs might look and work.

I'm a member of a committee for a local preserve with trails and such in it, and we discussed an idea like yours at our meeting last month. What we found attractive was the ability to provide multimedia enhancement to interpretive signs, but without having any electronica actually in the preserve -- let the visitor bring their own, right? We thought about having the QR link to a Google Map, to a web page we host on a topic related to the particular sign (such as related to a particular animal or plant in that habitat) or even to a YouTube or Flash video page with a short presentation/tour video. What's so cool about the QR codes is that they look kinda neat and can be modified to include an image within them, too.

We were thinking to create a concept and then invite an Eagle Scout or other organization to implement it (as we're often approached by folks seeking projects to enhance our preserve), and I'm really stoked to see the signs and concept drawings you've posted. You're really fleshing out how it can be done and done well.

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

Re: coder here!!! on 06/15/2011 16:11:12 MDT Print View

Roberto - I'd love to get in contact with you! I'll PM you in a little. Since I've just registered with the Apple to become a Developer I want to take a little bit to explore the tools available with the Developer SDK kit. After a bit of reading it is claiming some of the coding is pretty easy, but I'm guessing the sample code provided could be along the lines of coding a clock or a calendar. I think the difficult part for this project with come when trying to get the App and website to talk.

QR Code Visibility - Are you talking about the wear and tear signs take and the aged worn look they take on with time? Part of the material exploration I've been doing is to see how materials react to the laser etching process.

The next step now that I've proven that I can get QR codes to be readable on wood is to now to produce a few more signs and start weathering them to see how they read.

If I am not able to have the QR codes readable once worn, I am looking at an option of having a removable piece that might be replaced annually if needed.

One of the nice things about the QR codes is that they do not need to be 100% legible. Of the few sample QR codes I etched a few were a little rough and were able to be read after about 2-3 attempts.

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

Re: A killer idea on 06/15/2011 16:19:41 MDT Print View

Erik - Its great to see great interest and enthusiasm behind the concept! I appreciate it, I've put over 6 months of research and development to get to this point.

You're spot on with the opportunities available with the QR codes. They can be placed to further the education of animals and plants which would be great! I'm hoping to use them in a way that all parties will benefit, not only hikers, but all the organizations that go into making it all possible.

Hypothetically (And I'm getting ahead of myself) but IFF this were to work well as a pilot program (a single trail) and then advance to a whole park (say the White Mountains) and that were to work that the long term goal would be to get it to move from park to park, because I'm sure there is information from the Great Smoky Mountains that could benefit Parks and groups in say California. But like I said, getting a bit ahead of myself, gotta focus on the small goals short term right now!

If you guys would like to see any of my research or other parts of my project feel free to contact me!

Edited by jared.downs on 06/23/2011 09:16:11 MDT.

Dan Johnson

Locale: PNW
Seen it in Japan on 06/15/2011 16:20:59 MDT Print View

On a recent trip to Japan I noticed a lot of their signs for trails and public interests had these QR Codes. And by trails I mean more public ones throughout and on the out skirts of the city. Not ones way up in the Japan Alps. FWIW all their signs were metal with the QR Code painted on.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: QR Codes + Trail Signs on 06/15/2011 22:24:13 MDT Print View

I love this idea and I think those laser-etched trail signs look cool as hell. I can see how these this system would come in handy, especially if the data were available offline. You could make all sorts of data available, from trail maps to local history, to watering holes, to letting users upload GPS waypoints with hidden nearby waterfalls/caves/ etc. That said, the lightweight backpacker in me has some doubts about the practicality of all-new, laser etched signs.

As soon as the wood started to rot or if it split, the QR sign would become unreadable. I think you could get by with much less, and there's no need to replace anything. Basically, all you need is a sticker made of the same kind of stuff that our license plate registration stickers are made of, or comparable material. However, a sticker won't just stick to a rotting wood sign. So you'd need a plastic or metal backplate, which would have to be screwed in. Add on a little hood as added protection from the sun and most of the rain, and you've got a system that's much more versatile.

Here's a little doodle I made in MS Paint.


Edited by artsandt on 06/15/2011 22:25:48 MDT.

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

Japan / Sketches on 06/16/2011 08:06:40 MDT Print View

D Johnson - Japan is actually one of the places where QR codes have been incredibly popular. They were invented in 1998 and have taken a while to become more main stream here in the US. Everyone from realtors to business people are using them.

As for there signs I think it's great that they have a system in place and cool as heck that they get to use metal signs buttt, one of my main design objectives is to design this to be integrated into existing signs. I also am aiming to make it so for the hikers that don't have smart phones, this is something minimal that they can ignore as it doesn't pertain to them. I'd love to use metal but I also feel keeping the signs wood keeps that feeling that you get when you go into the woods (no flashing lights and sounds to distract from nature)

Art - I'm loving that! Killer stuff there! I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of opportunity.

I like the call out for a sticker, I think that is a great alternative to wood etching all the QR codes. That would be the most efficient way in to make them but my concern is how they would hold up (I'll be testing that). On a side note, having worked in the printing industry designing parts for large printers I would be a bit concerned about the ink used to print the code. Once of the nice benefits with the laser, is that if I can hook up to a solar system I can keep the production of these as clean as possible. Inks are horrible for our environment but stickers are worth looking into!

And you are correct it does not need to be over complicated. Thanks for your input! Much appreciated!

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Sketches on 06/16/2011 13:40:55 MDT Print View

Oh, it's definitely not a long-term solution, BUT who knows if QR codes and/or smartphones will even be relevant by the time the stickers wear out? Just saying. I tend to think the Japanese idea of using painted metal QR codes would be ideal, although if price were an issue, at least you have a few different approaches to consider.

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

Re: Re: Sketches on 06/16/2011 15:32:33 MDT Print View

Art- I like the point you bring up about the potential for QR codes to be obsolete as well as the smartphones. I think having the ability for the QR codes to be "abandoned in place" in the event the QR codes are obsolete will be key. Once the signs need replacing, the trail crews can make new signs with what ever the new technology is that replaced the QR code.

I'm still looking to maintain the same information the trail signs have just with the added QR code.

I think price would be a major issue with using metal signs, but ultimately I think wood is a much more appealing material due to it fitting in with nature as nice as it does. I think many hikers would find a metal sign rather out of place out in the woods.

When doing my research I was able to get in contact with the head of the Trail Crews for the AMC. He mentioned that his crew has a database of over 700 signs that the AMC looks after and maintains in the White Mountains not including USFS and signs from other clubs. He did mention that the Whites are rather "sign heavy." During the winter months he said his crew makes the new signs in-house and bring them out to the trails in the spring.

To keep the ability for the Trail Crews to make the signs in-house, maybe the QR code is a separate piece that is made by a third party (Me? or what ever this project turns into) and then the Trail Crew just adds the QR code piece to the sign.

Still lots of exploration to be done! Thanks for your comments!

Please feel free to keep the feedback coming, always incredibly helpful!

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: QR Codes + Trail Signs on 06/16/2011 16:35:04 MDT Print View

Hum ...

Are we trying to tame the wilderness with technology?

Can't we rely on our own navigation skills?

What will a walker do when he goes off-trail and finds he has no nanny holding his hand (or phone)?


Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Re: Re: Sketches on 06/16/2011 16:49:33 MDT Print View

Jared- That makes sense. Another thought: what about those brown flat posts as things you could just stick anywhere along the trail? It sounds like they don't use them in the Whites, but you see them pretty often in Arizona. I don't think they last too long, perhaps 10 years, after which time they simply get replaced (also, note that the information is on stickers). It could be another way to distribute the codes where they were needed rather than just where trail signs exist.

Arizona Trail

One question that comes up is how much information do you want someone to have access to when they scan a QR code? If you only put the codes at trailheads, people could just access the entire trail system with mileages from the scanned trailhead as a starting point, and be done with it. Alternatively, the QR codes could be like some kind of find-and-seek adventure for hikers, where each code would give access to unique information about that stretch of trail, like someone's favorite viewpoint, or a recent warning about rabid animals reported nearby, or it could be saved to their "my places" as a sort of treasure hunt to visit every one. Just some thoughts.

Roger- I see it more as a fun diversion for people who will already have their smartphones with them anyway. Some people use their smartphones for GPS apps while hiking. Why not have an interactive version of that?

I don't see how a QR code could act as a replacement for someone's navigation skills, unless I'm misinterpreting what Jared is saying...

Edited by artsandt on 06/16/2011 16:58:04 MDT.

Simon Wurster
(Einstein) - F

Locale: Big Apple
Re: QR Codes + Trail Signs on 06/16/2011 16:53:55 MDT Print View

Seems like a lot of effort and discussion about how to put the QR codes on the signs (and how long they last, and what to make them from, and how to get funding to install them, etc.), but very little on content.

What are the top 10 things I get from the QR code that I can't get from a map, a guidebook (which I may have digitally on my phone, which may also have a GPS), or modern GPS? Answer the consumer question first: "what's in it for me?" What makes me (not you) want this?

This isn't a criticism of the idea, just the workflow. Someday, you may have to sell this in front of a large group, and you will have to sell the content, not the QR code.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
That's not an acorn... on 06/16/2011 17:08:32 MDT Print View

I think the idea for a decal OR code may have some good applications, just as I like the large, laser-etched codes on the signs shown above. Some aspects of the decals used for signs already are that they're durable, there's an established size and format for the decals and they can be simply replaced by covering over, as one does with the registration decal on your license plate...

There's a carsonite sign.

One cool thing about QR codes is that they don't have to be very large. One could use them in a system with laser-etched trail signs and one could use smaller tags, even down to the size of a postage stamp, on signs, in trailhead kiosks, in trail brochures, etc... and they might function to reduce the number, size and expense of trail signeage, while providing a low-impact, high-reward experience for those seeking information ranging from interpretive highlights to positioning or map data.

One could create a custom app for the particular location or region, or one could simply code URL's to "good old fashioned web pages" or even a GoogleMaps location.

Those of us offended by technology can ignore the organic-looking symbols and savor the fact that they might be the only alternative to large, buzzing neon lights with solar-powered, action-video kiosks... The sky's not falling and the outback isn't being made any more accessible or friendly to those soft ones who haven't walked uphill both ways with torn, free-range soy birkenstocks or 40lb of rocks in their pack. It's gonna be okay. :) It's just an idea.

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

Techonolgy / QR Codes / Content on 06/16/2011 17:14:06 MDT Print View

Roger - I agree with you that we need to be able to rely on our navigation skills. Once I get into some of the content that you will benefit from with using the QR codes I think you'll see that this isn't exactly a digital device that holds your hand along the trail. Ultimately bringing together many parties involved with the outdoor industry.

Art - Initially I was thinking just updating existing signs and then through the research and learning from the pilot program, figure out other potential uses/features that users would want. There may be more potential locations for these down the line. An earlier concept I had before the QR code was replacing trail markers (the painted rectangles on trees) with a painted ".2" or ".4" to represent the milage marker on the trail. Similar to the milage markers on the interstate. Rather than knowing that you are on trail, why know how exactly where on a non-electronic way?

Thanks for that picture, always helps with some new thinking! Thanks

Simon - Your spot on with your comments and agree that there needs to be alot that the users get from this. Originally I wanted to post this to get the reaction from the hiking community. See if this was a concept that was worth pursuing further.

I'll try and whip up a diagram showing the stakeholders as well as the features the users will get from this.

Thanks all for the comments!