Kirk Klasson

“Over here, stupid!”

Like many of my ilk I have found that I am prone to specific loss of normal cognitive functions that seem related to my gender.

For starters, I can’t find things, simple but important things, like keys, insurance cards, post-its with passwords, that kind of stuff. Now nearly everyone experiences this kind of short term memory lapse and technology has begun to address this making it easier to locate those misplaced items. But I’m talking about a loss of cognition that appears to be unique to males rooted in their inability to recognize an object while looking strait at it. For instance, let’s take a simple example such as condiments. When confronted with a refrigerator full of condiments your average male is rendered apoplectic; their motionless concatenation induces a semi-hypnotic state that causes them to become invisible, making even larger objects like a jar full of mayonnaise impossible to find.

However, I am pleased to report that a confluence of technology breakthroughs is about to free these wretched souls from this miserable impairment. Over the past several years advances in printable power, circuits, display and audio components are on the verge of ushering in the age of intelligent packaging, a time when you will not only be able to find but also be able to communicate with your average consumer packaged good.

For sometime now we have had batteries that could be printed as thin as a business card. But bigger breakthroughs in printable circuits and audio components are just about to hit the market and are currently in search high value applications

Take n-type polymers. Until recently polymer based circuitry faced technical hurdles that seemed to make trade-offs between electrical performance and ease of manufacturing mutually exclusive. However, n-type polymers provide for both, making them not only ideal for circuits but also allow them to be produced through well understood printing methods. Add in the fact that they are flexible enough to be produced in sheets that can conform to the familiar shapes used in every day packaging of consumer goods and you are well on your way to the promise of intelligent packaging.

Next, polymers have also proven instrumental in the development of flat, flexible loudspeakers or FFL technology. At Warwick University in the UK speakers have been produced from multiple polymer laminates that are no thicker than a sheet of tin foil and just as flexible to boot.

Finally, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany recently announced a breakthrough that allows for the production of in-expensive, ultra-thin, low power organic LEDs which will open up a new frontier in display applications, allowing sophisticated displays to be added to even the most mundane items that we encounter on a daily basis. Again, all based on a better understanding in the use of polymers.

Put this altogether using the same low cost extrusion technology that brought us the multi-layer potato chip bag and you’ve got intelligent packaging. Packaging that will allow you to interact with everything from basketballs to ketch-up bottles. Packaging that will light up and converse with you. Packaging that will know when foods have reached their expiration date and need to be replaced. Sci-fi aficionados caught a glimpse of this future in the movie Minority Report where, during a doping scene, Tom Cruise picked up a cereal box and it instantly sprang to life with sound and animation.

So don’t be surprised if in the next couple of years when you stumble to the frig for a snack and, being confused, blurt out “where’s the mayo”, that a jar starts to blink and a voice in the back says:

“Over here, stupid.”

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