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Smart Beer, Smart Sensors Keep Consumers Informed

EuroPhotonics
Dec 2017

With the aid of smart codes and sensors, labels on beer can digitally provide product information to the drinker. These codes and sensors are embedded in the product and can be accessed via a smart phone app, which can read the 2D code on the label and analyze the color of the sensor area. Based on code and sensor information, consumers receive context-based information on their mobile devices.

UpCode barcode reader.
UpCode barcode reader. Courtesy of UpCode.



As part of the European TagItSmart! project — funded by the Horizon 2020 program — researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Finnish company UpCode have collaborated to introduce sensors and functional reversible thermochromic inks to consumer goods. These thermochromic inks react to light and changes in temperature, and are made with photonic liquid crystals and leuco dyes. 

“For example, a smart sensor attached to a beer bottle label knows if the beer is fit for consumption, its brewer, and the circumstances under which it was brewed,” said Liisa Hakola, project manager at VTT. “The codes in the label also inform the reader of how the life span of the product can be improved and offer a direct communication channel between the consumer and the manufacturer.”

Hakola told Photonics Media that it is easy and cost-effective to integrate photonic liquid crystal dyes and inks into a printed 2D code that could provide a service to the community.

“The idea was to create context-aware services based on monitoring of environmental and product conditions with sensors, and utilization of user data — such as location and user profile — in order to offer user-specified services,” she said.

UpCode has attached its 2D codes to the labels of Bock beer bottles from a small brewery in Vaasa, Finland. The smart beers are for sale at a neighborhood store to map out Finnish consumers’ opinions. UpCode has developed optical tags and IoT solutions, which, combined with sensor features, can monitor the environment of their products.

Beer with UpCode and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland 2D sensors.
Beer with UpCode and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland 2D sensors. Courtesy of VTT.

“This solution will deliver a significant change to product branding, as it enables not only product personalization, but also consumer-directed production and distribution and, thereby, a higher value added on the digital market,” said Sture Udd, UpCode’s CEO. 
Consumer goods with sensors and functional inks in the form of additional information, product safety and entertainment will be launched by the end of this year. The European TagItSmart! project is scheduled to conclude at the end of 2018, and Hakola thinks their sensors could change this type of technology in the future.

“More types of sensors will be integrated, such as photochromic, time-temperature and humidity sensors,” she said. “Irreversible sensors are the key.”

Sensors on beer labels seems a bit expensive; however, Hakola added that the price of the sensor when based on inks is minimal compared to the product price. The business benefit comes from the digital services it offers.

Europeeducationopticsoptical tagsIOTSensors & DetectorsindustrialCommunicationsVTTVTT Technical Research CentreFinlandUpCodephotonic liquid crystalsLiisa HakolaSture UddEuropean TagItSmart projectEUHorizon 2020beerAutum PylantPicture This

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