Objects don’t always need to have embedded radio modules and computing chips in order to join the Internet of Things. Even a QR code or something as old-school as a barcode can provide a basic digital identity. But with technologies like near-field communication (NFC) now included in consumer devices like smartphones, it’s become possible and practical to track an individual object throughout its lifecycle.
Last week the European beverage maker Diageo announced a partnership with Thinfilm Electronics that will add flexible, NFC-tagged labels to its drinks bottles. Each label is coded with un-alterable information about the bottle it’s attached to: what kind of beverage it contains, when and where it was produced, and URLs or other tags that can link to content on the web or in a mobile app.
Thinfilm’s tags can even detect whether the bottle has been opened, thanks to a weak point in the circuit that breaks when the cap is removed.
Suppliers, shipping companies, retailers and customers can use NFC readers to scan the tag’s embedded data, tracking its progress from the production line to the bar or dinner table and building up a cloud-based history of that particular bottle. The tags can also point consumers to drink recipes and other content relevant to the product or brand.
NFC is a “passive” technology — the tags do not broadcast and contain no batteries, instead relying on a magnetic field generated by the reader device to create a flow of electricity through the circuit. Because a reader has to be within inches of a tag to access its data, NFC is a relatively secure alternative to radio-based beacons that use Bluetooth or other wireless protocols. It also flips the usual image of beacons bombarding users with offers of digital content by making the interaction more user-directed, which could appeal to privacy-conscious consumers.
Diageo’s new Thinfilm-labeled bottle is on display this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Learn more about the technology at Thinfilm.no or watch the video below to see how smart labeling technology can be used in monitoring supply chains.