The development of ver very cheap electronics, made possible through a printing technology, is about to change bar codes into electronic tags. This is what Thinfilm has agreed to do signing a contract with Bemis to create intelligent packaging and the related platform. They expect to bring this technology to supermarkets and stores by 2014.
Thinfilm technology creates an electronic circuit, like the one used for RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification), simply printing it on a flexible material that can be sticked on any package, thus replacing a bar code.
The RFID tag can be read at a distance, since it communicate via radio. A cell phone can do that. The data contained in the tag can be as little as a simple code (a url) allowing an application to get more information about that product, or it can be a set of data (a few kBs). What is also interesting is that Thinfilm can produce a tag that has a much more complex circuit than the one used in an RFID tag. As an example it can contain sensor capability, to measure the temperature that package has been exposed to, and can store this information for subsequent control. It can also contain an active radio communications to send an alarm if the temperature approaches a critical level.
The shelves can provide the power support by generating an electromagnetic field that can be used to power the circuit and keep a small battery charged.
According to their press release:
“Intelligent packaging is an emerging technology with many potential intersections with Bemis’ flexible packaging and pressure sensitive materials business segments,” said Henry Theisen, Bemis Company President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our agreement with Thinfilm represents an investment in a technology that could eventually make printed electronics a component of every package we manufacture.”
Once you have this electronic circuits associated to each package in a supermarket you really start to have a huge amount of common “things” that can connect to the Internet. The strawberry package can embed a sensor to detect the excessive ripening and send an alarm to make sure that the package is moved to the front of the shelf (or thrown away if it is getting rot) and there you have the IoT, Internet of Things.
But that same package, connected to the web via the platform, can be used to deliver services, like recipes or information that can be cross checked with a particular customer to see whether those strawberry can create allergy problems. Welcome to the Internet with Things, IwT.
In the first case the relation is between the package and a system, a thing to thing communications, in the latter we have that the “thing”, the package, has become one of the element of the web and can be searched, polled, mashed up, associated to services to serve a person.