Last year we published articles about the launch of ibarga – the project for the first ever medieval historic centre in Tuscany to be connected to the internet via 2D barcodes and cell phones. All the restaurants and bars in Barga Vecchia, all the churches, all the piazza’s, all the statues and all place of interest for visitors to Barga have been tagged with a small white ceramic tile with a printed individual two dimensional bar code which can be read by any of the new smart phones.
All the visitor has to do is point their cell phone at the tile, which then brings up on the screen of their phone information about the area. So pointing it at the tile on the Duomo will bring up information about the Duomo, if they point it at one outside Palazzo Pancrazi, it will be information about Palazzo Pancrazi etc. etc. More than that, they can also decide in which language they want the information. – full article including videos here
The project has actually been running since April 2008 when we published a cartoon (here) containing a black and white square design and asking the question, just what do we call these things ? Datamatrics, sematags or 2d barcodes? Over the next couple of years they ended up with another name – that of QR codes and the whole project was then named ibarga which has been in trial version for almost three years but now has matured into a larger cultural and commercial project covering the whole area. The black and white ceramic tiles can be seen in strategic places right through Barga Vecchia and shortly they will also be found across the whole comune.
A second group of tiles, this time coloured green and white have been set up in the Parco Bozzi below Barga Vecchia for an ambitious project enabling visitors to the park to scan the tiles with their cell phones and hear spoken poetry from 10 different locations inside the park. An American poet, Kerry Bell was commissioned to write 10 poems specially for the project.
Later on in the season, other poets speaking in other languages will be invited to contribute to the project.
To publicise these events a poster has started to appear in many place around the comune showing a woman’s face with an iphone partially covering her mouth and a QR in the bottom right hand side of the image. There is no other text on the image but if people point their cell phones at the QR code, a video appears on their phone of the same woman’s mouth talking … by placing their own cell phone over the one shown on the poster, hey presto, the still flat image suddenly comes alive.
Overview of QR Codes
A QR Code is a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR scanners, mobile phones with a camera, and smartphones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.
Common in Japan, where it was created by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in 1994, the QR code is one of the most popular types of two-dimensional barcodes. QR is the abbreviation for Quick Response, as the creator intended the code to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed.
Although initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing, QR Codes are now used in a much broader context, including both commercial tracking applications and convenience-oriented applications aimed at mobile phone users (known as mobile tagging). QR Codes can be used to display text to the user, to add a vCard contact to the user’s device, to open a URI or to compose a text message or email. Users can also generate and print their own QR Code for others to scan and use by visiting one of several free QR Code generating sites. Frank C. Hudetz, a US Marketing Services Professional, claims to have invented the idea of mapping bar codes to a URL.
QR Codes storing addresses and URLs may appear in magazines, on signs, buses, business cards, or on just about any object about which users might need information. Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image scan the image of the QR Code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the phone’s browser. This act of linking from physical world objects is known as a hardlink or physical world hyperlinks.
How the project has unfolded since 2008
A number of art projects on the mountains surrounding Barga were using QR codes – in 2008 – Margini – Artists in Residence at the Rifugio Enrico Rossi sulle Alpi Apuane and during 2009 and 2010 – Tambura in Banda Larga on Monte Tambura.
During the summer of 2010 the QR codes appeared in a number of different places in Barga including on t-shirts and publicity for Barga Jazz 2010, on one of the chairs in Chairart and on the new disc “Invisible Cities” from Andrea Guzzoletti
The decision to use Ceramic Tiles
Back in 2008 and 2009 a series of tests were done to see if the system was workable using printed labels – stickers which were put up in the town to see what reaction there would be. Although initially they were working perfectly, there were a few problems with the weather degrading the labels and making them unreadable or removing them completely (there was also the problem of small boys removing the labels and collecting them) Something more permanent was needed. Also some thought would have to be given to the aesthetics of sticking a label onto a 500 year old palazzo or the 1000 year old Duomo.
After a few trials with laminating labels to protect them from the elements, it was decided to use ceramic tiles which were carefully selected and screen printed with a QR code with inks that can withstand the rigours of full summer sunlight and deep winter chills without degrading. They were small enough for all the information to be still recognisable by the system, not too large to be an eyesore in the historic centre of Barga and above all aesthetically pleasing in their own right.
So where does the project go from here ?
And here comes the exciting part – it was announced at the press conference by the Mayor of Barga, Marco Bonini that the second part of the project will shortly be activated – namely, a WiFi system over the whole of Barga Vecchia allowing fast internet access for anybody inside the city walls. Just what the ibarga project needed to make it work at full capacity. Interesting times we live in.