Making mobile printing easier with QR codes

One of the best features of the new class of U.S. mobile smartphones is that they’re finally capable of reading QR (Quick Response) codes.

These codes, which already appear all over Japan and Korea, are 2D bar codes typically displayed on something — such as a poster, webpage, magazine ad, or store window — and captured by a phone camera. The phone decodes the image and launches the appropriate application to see the text, browse the website, send SMS, or call the number that was contained in the QR code.  In all these scenarios, the phone is reading the QR code.

But you can also turn this model on its head by having the phone display the code to be read by another device.

Mobile printing made simple

Currently, about 20 U.S. airports enable passengers to check in through a “mobile boarding pass”. These airports use special scanners to read the 2D barcodes displayed by diverse mobile manufacturers’ hardware.

We realized a similar technique could be used to “acquaint” a mobile phone and a printer, so that someone could easily print something from their phone wherever they are and whenever it’s needed (e.g., instructions, maps, notes, product information to leave behind for a prospective client).

To print from your phone, you first have to make the phone and printer “talk” to each other — which isn’t always easy. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to re-register my Bluetooth- or wifi-enabled mouse with my laptop; the irony is that they’re sitting right next to each other!

But using the scanner on a multi-function printer (or MFD) simplifies the process of acquainting the printer with your phone. All you have to do is:

  • display (a QR code with some print instructions embedded in it);
  • place (the phone on the MFD scanner); and
  • press (the big green button on the printer to scan it).

In addition, the code can contain cryptographic information so the phone can send an encrypted document over untrusted networks.  The printer uses the cryptographic information embedded in the QR code to decrypt the document once it arrives from the network.

Here’s a prototype implementation of this technique (which was developed at PARC and Xerox Research Center Webster).



 Editor: Sonal Chokshi

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