QR codes, or quick response codes, were invented in 1994 by Masahiro Hara, an engineer who worked in Japan’s auto industry, with the goal of tracking vehicles and parts during the manufacturing process. Instead of typing in a tedious URL, scan a small black-and-white label with your phone to instantly pull up a website or app. In the years that followed, other sectors, including advertising, marketing, and online payment services, adopted their usage. A wide swath of countries in Asia embraced the technology; in China alone they can facilitate everything from charging mobile phones to flirting in bars. Now, in cities like Bangkok and Hong Kong, the technology has been tapped to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic; codes posted at the entrance to grocery stores and public transit centers help contact-tracing efforts in case of outbreaks. But in the decade or so since QR codes have been floating around the U.S., they haven’t been widely adopted. In the past year, though, spurred by the pandemic, the technology seems to finally be coming into focus. Read more at Fortune.