Plastic electronics, a growing branch of materials science, is developing new technology at a rapid pace. Many of these advancements can be used to allow consumers to more readily interact with products on the shelf. Here are just some examples of the packaging we can expect to see on shelves in the future:
Face the front!
Most of us are familiar with orientation sensors – the kind that know when your tablet or phone is turned upside down and flips the screen around. Soon, clever new labeling will know when a product is facing the wrong way on the shelf – and automatically rearrange itself so that the information is facing outwards. Not only will this save man-hours on the shop floor, it will also make things easier in your own home, too. One of the great things about this type of labeling is that there is no limit to the amount of information contained on the label, as scrolling displays are used. The font size adjusts to help the visually impaired.
Electrophoretic (e-ink) ink displays are often referred to as “paper ink” displays. The ink contains encapsulated particles that move around according to whether a positive or negative charge is applied, and can be printed onto virtually any surface. The labels are virtually unbreakable and can still be easily read in bright sunlight unlike backlit displays. This technology is used in e-readers such as the Kindle, but can - and will - also be used in product labeling of the future, opening up a whole myriad of packaging possibilities
It’s like something straight out of Willy’s wonkiest dreams: a chocolate tin with external sensors that match the contents. The idea is that the consumer would touch the sensor corresponding to the object of their sweet tooth’s desires, and the contents would self-sort. The chocolates would then magically arrange themselves with the selected treats appearing at the top upon removal of the lid. This works by using electro-responsive polymers to line the tin and cover the sweets.
Ketchup with technology...
How many times have you ruined a perfectly good bacon sandwich with an over-zealous application of the red stuff? Sensor technology will soon be used to help dispense exactly the right amount of ketchup for your snack. The bottle is likely to feature three sensors, each delivering a different-sized splurge of sauce onto the food. Sensors in the cap will let the bottle know whether it is hovering over your plate or your trousers, helping put a stop to sauce spillages forever.
Packaging that teaches you a lesson
If you’ve ever tried to use an at-home hair dye kit, you’ll know that half the battle is fought on the plains of the instructional leaflet. Sometimes it can feel more like a chemistry experiment as you don the awkward plastic gloves and try to figure out how to mix the various chemicals. Instructional videos on YouTube can be useful, but you run the risk of dripping bright red hair dye onto your keyboard, or following instructions for a different brand of dye.
But things are about to change – soon your home dye-job will be made easier by instructional packaging that actually talks you through the process.
A ripe old age
How many times have you opened the bottom drawer of your fridge only to find a veritable compost heap of vegetating fruit and veg? These fruit sensors could mean an end to moldy old drawers – they let you know at what stage your fresh fruit products are in their life cycle – so you’ll be able to tell whether they’re under ripe, just-right or on the turn, just by glancing at the packaging. It works by cleverly measuring the gases given off inside the packaging; the change of air activates the sensor.
Packaging with human emotions – now that’s something that could end badly. Why? Well for starters, there could be a lot of bruised egos around the place, because soon consumers will be able to say whether they love or hate a product by touching the carton. A questionnaire can then be emailed to them to present the opportunity of giving more detailed feedback.
No article about futuristic packaging would be complete without mention of augmented reality (AR) and the possibilities it opens up for us mere humans to interact with the products we use everyday. Watch this demo of how it works.
For more information, visit www.bensongroup.co.uk.
Pickles image courtesy of Endora57; chocolates image courtesy of Jonathan Reyes; strawberries image courtesy of The Wellington Boot.