Tested: QR Code Key Ring for Lost Keys

Can a QR code on a key ring really help lost keys find their way home? We put it to the test.

Here's the idea: you attach a QR code to your key ring that, when scanned, opens a texting window with "I found your keys!" set to send to the key owner's phone.

When I saw the instructions for this over at Pumping Station: One, I had just made my first custom QR code, so the idea was pretty exciting to me and I really wanted to have one of these unusual key ring attachments. But later that day, I noticed that two of my three roommates don't have a smartphones. I couldn't help but wonder how many of the people who found my keys would have smartphones, and how many of them would even know what to do with a QR code.

Now, I probably could have done research with statistics and percentages of smartphone users and QR codes and so on, but that sounded boring, so I decided to put this idea to the test.

I went to a local hardware store and had them make some copies of an old key. Then, I printed out a page with the QR code tiled across it and took that sheet to FedEx to get it laminated. I cut out the QR codes into tags, and attached them to 6 key rings with the old keys on them. When someone scanned the QR code, it would compose a new text message that they could send to me to let me know that they found the keys.

I left the keys throughout San Francisco, dropping one at a bus stop, two in Golden Gate Park, one in a parking lot, one in the parking garage at San Francisco State University, and another on a random street in the Sunset District.

A few hours after I dropped the keys in Golden Gate Park, I got a text with the message, "I found your keys!". Needless to say, I was quite excited. I had a brief dialogue with the person who found the keys and they agreed to leave them for me at the Conservatory of Flowers in the park, where I easily found them later. So far, success!

The next day, I got a text about the other key I left in the park. The finder said they had left them by a bathroom, and after some picture messaging, I managed to find the correct bathroom. However, after searching for an hour and texting back and forth with the finder (who was super helpful, by the way), I concluded that somebody else must have taken the key for whatever reason.

As for the key at the bus stop, it took a few days, but I eventually got a text saying that it was still there waiting for me. But when I got there, I found a mangled keychain with the QR code peeled open and the key gone.

As for the others, the QR code could have gotten wrecked or the keys kicked into a bush or down a drain. Here are some tips for those of you who want to make your own:

  • Cut out the QR code you want to laminate ahead of time and make sure you leave a margin of laminating plastic around the edges; that way, the laminate sticks to itself and water can't seep in and ruin the code.
  • Write your cell phone number on the back of the QR code tag, so the finder can still get in touch with you, even if they don't have a smartphone. Avoid giving out a landline phone number, since it could be traced back to your house, giving the finder free entry to your home.
  • Have the person who finds your keys hide them somewhere out of sight so nobody will try to turn them in to a lost and found without letting you know.

The verdict? It's an awesome idea and I suggest doing it, but definitely add your phone number to the back for non-smartphone users.

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Albert Filice

PC World (US online)
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