Rescue Me, Digitally

Posted on May 30, 2013

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Apparently, one of the last citadels of paper-based data is the rescue sheet, a document on A4-size paper that indicates where and how a particular vehicle can best be pried open when occupants need rescuing. Required in Europe, the sheet must be placed behind the driver’s sun visor. Now, however, digital technology has caught up with even this obscure bit of vehicular cargo.

I read today that Daimler will place QR codes on Mercedes vehicles—one inside the fuel tank flap and one on the opposite side of the vehicle between the front and back doors. Instead of combing through sometimes unreachable debris inside a smashed vehicle, paramedics can scan the codes and receive detailed rescue-sheet information on their smartphones, presumably speeding rescues.

Rescue sheets sound like a great idea, although until today I had no idea that they existed, and with QR codes they become even more useful. Now I’m thinking about so many other areas of life where we could use a rescue sheet that would be accessible from the phone in our pocket.

Imagine that you file with the secretary of state to start a new company. I think the government should stamp those documents with a QR code informing you how to rescue your business if the economy turns south.

Suppose you register with a dating service, and each of the individuals you ask out is equipped with a QR code that connects to a Web page revealing how to rescue yourself from this person if things go bad. There’s an app with a market!

If the team you coach is six runs down in the ninth, couldn’t a QR code on each bat help your players anticipate what the pitcher will toss next and show them how and when to swing to rescue the game? (Warning: Step out of the batter’s box while scanning.)

Perhaps a little more practically, consider the potential life-saving value of distributing QR-code stickers to residents of tornado alley. As they take cover, they could slap a super-glued sticker onto a ruggedized concrete “rescue post” on the doorstep to indicate they have taken shelter inside. When scanned, the codes generate names, photos, information on relatives and their contact numbers, and medical conditions. First responders could go directly to structures where they know people are situated, because those seeking shelter left their QR code safety stickers there.

Similarly, QR codes could guide people out of dangerous situations. Codes posted on walls or windows could offer quick video of the fastest route outside if a fire erupts or alternative escape routes in a workplace-violence situation.

From kittens to ketches, QR codes could come to the rescue when life goes bad. It’s comforting to know that, while digital technology occasionally may confuse us, with some innovation it can rescue us, as well.

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