The humble QR code just got very exciting. New ‘functional inks’ can track and measure changes in light, temperature, humidity and the passing of time. When used in a QR code, these inks can track everyday items, and have the potential to radically change our relationship with ‘best before’ dates, warranties and recycling.
Starting with a conversation between VTT in Finland and The University of Surrey in the UK, TagItSmart is now part of the EU Horizon 2020 programme, with 13 other partners onboard. The project is finishing its first year and has developed a number of exciting use cases.
Supermarkets and their suppliers are a major consideration. By adding the QR codes to food packaging, supermarkets would receive real-time information about the conditions and time taken to transport food from A to B. The ‘Best Before’ dates on foods could be far more accurate, in some cases allowing products to be on shelf longer and reducing needless food waste. Or in other instances, ‘dynamic pricing’ would automatically discount goods as they reach the end of their shelf life. Then, back at home, your smart fridge can scan the same code and tell you exactly when to throw out your ageing avocado.
Other possible uses include car safety, with ink sprayed inside the tyres to monitor conditions and warn if it needs changing. Product warranties could be transformed, with consumers or producers able to prove if a product was damaged before or after opening. At the end of their life, products could even tell us when, how and where to recycle them.
Functional inks don’t have to be used in QR codes; edible inks are being developed for foods without packaging, and others can be used on fabrics. Embedding technology into the most everyday items, from your tangerine to your t-shirt, could help us to be more responsible consumers and transform the supply chains around every purchase we make.
Srdjan Krco, PhD E.E. CEO and co-founder, H2020 TagItSmart project coordinator Tag It Smart
Serbia (Novi Sad)