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QR Codes + Trail Signs
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Tyson Marshall
(sheepNgeese) - MLife

Locale: Ventura County (formerly PNW)
FWIW on 06/17/2011 12:06:59 MDT Print View

Hi Jared,

If you want to talk labels, I'm a great resource. I deal with labels for more hours a day than I would like to. I work for a label company, as an account manager, that specializes in printing on paper and films.

There are a lot of wrong ways you can print an outdoor label and there are only a few ways to do it right. I can share with you all the various printing methods and printing materials (without dealing with someone trying to sell you something), that will help you make a more educated decision when it comes to labels.

Without putting the rest of the BPL community to sleep, by going on about labels, shoot me an email and I'll share with you what I know.


Email: (marshall.tyson) @ (gmail)

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

Re: FWIW on 06/17/2011 13:09:11 MDT Print View

Erik - Your right on with the decal, I'll be doing some more exploration with that! I'm digging the carsonite sign. I like how the information is easy to understand.

Your right on the money with what I'm thinking as one of the features involving maps and tagging locations via GPS. But that will only be one of the small features. I'll be sure to post a diagram showing the features soon, got a little side tracked with prototyping a few signs, always fun!

As for technology and the woods, I appreciate your support! I think this is something that some people will love and some people will not like. We can look at Apple for example, lots of people love the iPod and all their other products but then some people down right hate them. Unfortunately not every solution covers every person, so hopefully I will be able to develop a system that will have various layers that allow for use by a wider range of hikers.

Thanks for your support!

Tyson- I appreciate your offer, and will send an e-mail your way. It'll be a huge help to gain a better understanding of the labels.

Check back in for some more photos of new prototypes!

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

New Prototypes! on 06/17/2011 13:28:54 MDT Print View

Here's a few jpegs I just whipped together of some prototypes I made. Let me know your thoughts.

I feel like the sign labeled "prototype 1" is the best graphically, but needs to be scaled up a little larger.

I made these using scraps available so thats the reason for the odd sizes, but will be getting some material this week to start playing around with a standard.

Prototyped Signs

Below is a picture of some stencils I laser cut for "mileage markers" for the trails. Rather than just a colored rectangle, a painted number would be worth exploring. Just experimenting but am sure others already to this or a version of if.

Trail Marker Stencils

Tyson Marshall
(sheepNgeese) - MLife

Locale: Ventura County (formerly PNW)
Re: New Prototypes! on 06/17/2011 13:44:24 MDT Print View

Prototypes look great! If you can stick with wood, please do!

I would think, just like labels, choosing the correct wood could be just as important. I just recently finished building a skin-on-frame kayak and the person that was teaching me about kayaks, and the dynamics of wood, swears by yellow and red cedar. He then coats his wood with a 50/50 mix of 100% Limonene (from Florida) and 100% Tung Oil (from Brazil). This might not be the most practical, or cost-effective option, but the stuff is quite durable and weather resistant. He's been working with wood his entire life, so he may be a great resource for different wood and treatment options.


Tohru Ohnuki
(erdferkel) - F

Locale: S. California
Re: Techonolgy / QR Codes / Content on 06/17/2011 13:48:43 MDT Print View

About the QR code technology itself: how tolerant is it to damage (bird pooop, vandalism) and does it have error correction? Also, if you make the signs by laser etching the wood, how long can it be in the wilderness before the wood oxidizes to the same color as the marking? What contrast is needed for reliable QR code reading?

Edit: so wikipedia and google are my friends, the QR code can have error correction but with a reduction in data payload and it seems there is some chance all the data may not be corrected:
QR codes on wikipedia

ALso, it seems a minimum contrast of 4:1 is recommended:

Edited by erdferkel on 06/17/2011 14:05:23 MDT.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Technology on 06/17/2011 14:20:02 MDT Print View

Regarding technology, I think you can have philosophical reservations about even bringing a phone on a backpacking trip, and that's fine, but there are also legitimate pragmatic concerns a person can have about using a smartphone on the trail for GPS, apps, or anything that uses the battery. As we all know, the battery life on these things is, as a rule, abysmal, they are easily damaged in water and heat, and when either of those events do occur, you've lost your most effective (if you have signal) emergency bail-out device. If and when smartphones improve their reliability in these ways, an idea like putting QR codes on trail signs could have a lot of potential to really take off.

Edited by artsandt on 06/17/2011 14:20:36 MDT.

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

Re: Re: Technology on 06/17/2011 16:48:14 MDT Print View

Tyson - Thanks!!! One of my main design goals has been to keep the feel of the signs as similar to the way they have been, but while changing them in a positive way that does not take away from the over experience.

Wood - I agree 100% on the correct choice of wood (if that is the final direction for the QR code) is crucial. I do have a professor here that has a strong wood backround and I will be meeting with him soon to discus practical options, but I am always more than excited to talk with as many people as possible. I think everyone brings something different to the table which is great! I'll def look more into the finishes you are talking about. Someone had mentioned Shellac as a potential finish.

Tohru - I do have concerns with how well wood will stand up, but through more testing I will find out how much wear and tear the codes can take. I'll keep you posted on that! To keep a contrast ratio of 4:1 I might want to play with adding a paint to the QR code? OR a solution that maintains an appropriate contrast ratio. Thanks for the links!

Art - I agree that this won't be for everyone; I personally don't like hiking with shoes/boots (to each his/her own right?) And yes one of my major concerns was battery life. Earlier in the project I looked at whether I should design a portable recharging unit of some sort to include in the using of the smartphone while on trail. But after some thought I felt I would be spread pretty thin if I included that in this project. (Currently I feel spread thin with the development of the signs, App, and website, as well as doing all the branding and graphical 4 months) but hey! I'm up for the challenge!!

This idea needs to start somewhere, hopefully with if I'm able to get this to start small there will be some huge learnings to help improve it even more!!

Aaron Benson
(AaronMB) - F

Locale: Central Valley California
Re: QR codes - smaller is better. on 06/17/2011 17:10:12 MDT Print View

I really like Art's mock-up - small, noticeable, efficient. My own emphasis is "small" is good. Prototype #3 above is getting there, but IMO, it's still too big. In my time with nature, I'd rather see a little metal sign in the corner than a big QR code in wood.

As suggested, it could be beneficial in all sorts of ways to make the QR code a component that is attached to the Trail sign. The QR code piece, then, could probably be more easily made with the needed detail/contrast, be made small, and be easily replaced, if needs be.

I can picture a little 2"x2" QR code sign in the corner of a Trail Sign.

Edited by AaronMB on 06/17/2011 17:24:12 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
QR codes on 06/17/2011 17:24:10 MDT Print View

DaMn, if we could just convince AT&T to build some cell towers up in the High Sierra...

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: QR codes on 06/17/2011 18:16:09 MDT Print View

I hate to be the contrarian, but what problem is solved by standardized trail signs with QR codes?

After 35 years of hiking in the White Mountains, I enjoy the variety of trail signs. There's something special about the weathered white and green painted signs, the heavy routed signs, and the colorful painted signs near the AMC huts.

I just don't see a laser cut, optically coded sign as enhancing my experience. I'll stick with a map, compass, and awareness of the terrain around me...

White Mountain's Trail Sign

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Re: Techonolgy / QR Codes / Content on 06/17/2011 18:44:03 MDT Print View

Hopefully all the need to know information will still be printed on the sign for everyone to read.

Edited by kthompson on 06/17/2011 18:44:47 MDT.

Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
Re: Re: Re: Technology on 06/17/2011 19:07:50 MDT Print View

I think this is a fantastic idea and I think you could really turn this into something cool. I do have a concern about using wood though. I work in the mobile marketing industry and crank out QR code campaigns for clients (I'm an Information Architect/Ux designer). My concern is in the degredation of the code over time. What you have to consider is the performance of different readers and even the differences that the camera and lighting has on how readable each code is. You combine those variables, with a couple years of weathering, and I think you're going to have a hard time reading the codes.

This is a case where I'd spend a lot more time in making the app great, and keep the QR code placements just heavy duty vinyl stickers. They'll be easy to replace, and will handle the weathering better (and you'll be able to legibly add some copy explaining what the heck they are). This would not only give you a better chance at long term success, but it would be much much cheaper to roll out.

Also, I think it's a good idea to point it to an app. Whoever develops this should make it so that the reader is within the app, and the QR codes just contain an ID number. that will keep the amount of data within the codes simple, and therefore the code will have the full 30% error correction.

Best of luck with this! I think it's got a lot of potential. As I've said my only concern would be the long term readability of the codes.

Tim Zen
(asdzxc57) - F

Locale: MI
Re: Re: QR Codes + Trail Signs on 06/17/2011 19:43:42 MDT Print View

How about you build a digital cairn out of rocks.

Instead of a pile of rocks, you could lay them out in a grid on the ground.

Less signs are better.

Jared Downs
(jared.downs) - F

Response on 06/17/2011 19:53:34 MDT Print View

Aaron - Great feedback, I appreciate it very much. I'll spend sometime exploring sizing of the QR code, and hopefully narrow to a certain size during the refinement of the project. (Still have about 6 weeks left to go, so things will change...hopefully for the better!) I think placement of the code will be crucial as I don't want it to distract the non-users.

Craig - If service was everywhere that'd be awesome, but I am aiming for the App to contain certain bits of information as well as track the times when you scan the code. Once you have service the App will talk to the website transferring certain bits of information.

John - I do not think there is a problem with having a variety of signs in the mountains, the thought of standardizing them was actually something a member of the AMC trail crew had mentioned to me. The USFS is looking to standardize them; which provides me with a great opportunity to implement the QR code. I'm still working on the true benefits of the App but its not going to be an App that navigates for you. The App is going to enhance the piece of mind that a loved one may have or the ability for Search and Rescue to have certain key bits of information that is needed in the event that you become lost; ultimately speeding up the process.

Ken - Having talked with thru hikers that have done the AT, some had mentioned needing to do research on certain areas before starting the hike. After doing the research some mentioned writing down notes about areas for later use. I see this as a way to not need to write down the info but rather keep the notes on a smart phones for those that have it. Ultimately making information more accessible while on trail, above and beyond what is already available on trail. I don't plan on taking information off signs that is currently on them. Hope this helps!

Kieran - Some of my testing involved exploring plastics for the QR codes and doing a wipe with a paint to provide the contrast for the code. Possibly making this a piece that is removable with hardware. With in the App I'm looking at 4 features the first being a QR code reader within the App so the user does not need to go App to App to use this. Thanks for your insights and support! Hopefully this turns into the real deal. Please check back in as I think you being a UX designer would provide me with great feedback, if your up for it that be appreciated.

Timothy - I do not see this increasing the number of signs, more as something that is added to new signs as current signs are replaced. I do not think the solution is more signs, just updating them in a way that provides hikers with additional information while still staying true to the look and feel that hikers have known for decades. Hope this clarifies things a little.

Thanks all!

Edited by jared.downs on 06/17/2011 19:57:37 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: QR codes on 06/17/2011 21:04:07 MDT Print View

"DaMn, if we could just convince AT&T to build some cell towers up in the High Sierra..."

From what I'm reading here, that can't be far in the future. It's a Brave New World, Craig, and us dinosaurs' days is numbered.

Mat Tallman
(wehtaM) - F

Locale: Midwest
. on 06/17/2011 21:22:55 MDT Print View

We're technologizing the backcountry, not a fan of the idea at all.
I'm a techno nerd (engineer) and appreciate the cool factor of the technology, but the backcountry is for escaping the phones and lights and people.

Also, this is America, are you prepared for the lawsuits that WILL come when someone's smartphone mis-scans a code and gives incorrect information sending a hiker in the wrong direction, into harm's way, etc. Seems we're developing a complex solution to a simple (non-existent?) problem, all the while making the wild places less wild.

Good effort, but no thanks.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: . on 06/17/2011 22:20:51 MDT Print View

I think posts related to technologizing the backcountry are best kept in the Philosophy forum. The topic here is QR codes and Jared's project. Let's not let a good thread go bad.

Edited by artsandt on 06/17/2011 22:29:06 MDT.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: QR Codes + Trail Signs on 06/18/2011 04:17:23 MDT Print View

I am trying to keep an open mind to this and can appreciate practical applications for using QR Codes - for example, the nature preserve with interpretive stops being one applicable example. But I must ask, what problem would this technology be used to solve? Ok, I can see a few practical examples, including the ability to embed Longitudinal/Latitude/UMT Coordinates into the code, with elevation profile data, and other pertinent information.

It is worth noting that the trend, at least in the west, is to remove/minimize signs in designated wildernesses in accordance with the Wilderness Act. The exception seems to be National Parks, where there is an abundance of signage. But elsewhere, there aren't many, particularly in the back country - the assumption being that you had better carry a map and be prepared.

Tim Zen
(asdzxc57) - F

Locale: MI
Re: QR Codes + Trail Signs on 06/18/2011 09:44:59 MDT Print View

When I am carrying a device with GPS, compass, 4G, and 32 GB of memory which can hold 6000 USGS topo map. I am not sure I see the point of signs with QR codes.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: QR Codes and Trail Signs on 06/18/2011 16:49:12 MDT Print View

Timothy -

I was thinking the same thing. All of these whizbang things will be made somewhat obsolete by GPS-enabled devices that work anywhere and provide communication. And with that, the greater ethical debate begins - will there be any true wilderness when that happens? I mean, if you can walk out your door and reasonably expect to call search and rescue at any moment, is that necessarily better? My find flip-flops on this issue all the time.

But back to QR codes, if there were the ability to receive basic information (via data embedded int eh code) but optionally (where coverage exists) receive some sort of update as to trail conditions or hazards, such as fire, that might be useful. You could take it to the next logical step and presume that if you were to scan in a code and be able to receive information though a 4G/3G/Satellite/new-fangled-technoogy, then you would at the same time be able to transmit some information about yourself, based this two-way communication. Such as here is my last known location and please-update-me-with-the-latest-conditions.

Anyhow, it is interesting, even if the potential might be eclisped by other technologies such as GPS, Satellite, WiMax.....