Behold, the NFC-enabled smart whisky bottle

Sure, drinking too much Scotch can dull your wits, but if you can’t tolerate dumbness from the bottle itself, then here’s one for you. Thanks to the latest in flexible electronics, the smart whisky bottle will now be a thing.

On Wednesday, the drinks giant [company]Diageo[/company] and the Norwegian printed electronics firm [company]Thinfilm[/company] announced a prototype connected bottle for Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky that will have a range of features enabled by Thinfilm’s new OpenSense NFC tags. The internet-of-things identity and authentication firm Evrythng is tying things together in its cloud (Evrythng has a partnership with Thinfilm). The bottle will be shown off at Mobile World Congress next week.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky bottle with Thinfilm OpenSense NFC tag

Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky bottle with Thinfilm OpenSense NFC tag underneath label

The features are largely stock control and anti-counterfeiting measures – the tags will make it possible to track the bottles and see with a tap of a smartphone whether the bottle’s seal has been broken, and one of Thinfilm’s big selling points is that its smart labels are pretty much impossible to copy or modify.

However, there’s also a marketing aspect to all this. Customers will be able to tap the tag, which is discreetly stuck underneath the label at the back of the bottle’s neck, with their NFC-enabled smartphone in order to get “personalized” messages. These messages will be contextual – if they tap the bottle in the store, it may trigger a promotional offer; once bought, it may offer up cocktail recipes or other content.

“Our collaboration with Thinfilm allows us to explore all the amazing new possibilities enabled by smart bottles for consumers, retailers and our own business, and it sets the bar for technology innovation in the drinks industry,” Diageo Futures Team global innovation director Helen Michels boasted in a statement. Meanwhile, Thinfilm CEO Davor Sutija noted that this sort of customizable marketing functionality wouldn’t be possible with conventional NFC tags, which aren’t integrated with sensors in this way.

It is certainly true that advances in printed and flexible electronics will change the nature of everyday product packaging, because the technology is now at the point where it’s becoming very cheap to implement — when Thinfilm recently partnered with Xerox on the production of printed memory labels, it said it expected to manufacture a billion of the things each year.

So in the coming years, expect produce packaging that can tell you when the contents are going off, blister packs that can point out how many pills have been popped, and yes, smart booze bottles that suggest appropriate mixers. It’s a brave new world.

This story was updated on 26 February to include a mention of Evrythng’s involvement.

Xerox licenses Thinfilm printed storage tech for smart labels

The Norwegian printed electronics firm Thinfilm has formed a strategic partnership with Xerox around printed storage. Xerox will license Thinfilm’s proprietary technology and make Thinfilm Memory labels, which have some very interesting characteristics.

Each label, costing a few pennies, is a plastic tag that’s based on ferroelectric capacitors and allows for power-free archival storage in the 10-15-year range. This isn’t some data center technology though; we’re only talking 10-36 bits. They are however very rewriteable – the data can be rewritten 100,000 times. This means the labels are perfect for continually storing and refreshing the output of sensors.

According to Thinfilm chief Davor Sutija, the two most important applications will be in smart consumables and brand authentication. In the former case, the labels could be added to ink cartridges or soap dispensers to store measurements how often the product is used, or to the blister packaging of medicines, to help associate the numbers of pills that have been taken with the patient’s ID.

The brand authentication possibilities stem from the fact that Thinfilm’s printed memory labels are – according to Sutija – essentially impossible to forge. The label is “a polymer that’s 130 nanometers thick and printed between two metal electrodes – you’re storing information by essentially taking a polymer and turning it to the left or the right,” he told me. “It’s not much more than 1,000 atomic layers. We can detect with a precision of a few percent whether the thickness is correct.”

Xerox has been working on printed electronics for around a decade and a half at its PARC research facility, and has worked with Thinfilm since 2011 as its partner for the commercial development of printed logic products, making sure that Thinfilm’s memory and PARC’s transistors work well together. Xerox’s licensing of Thinfilm’s technology is a new step in the relationship – Sutija said he expects Xerox’s Rochester, New York facility to pump out a billion of the tags each year.

Thinfilm picked up $23 million in funding last October, and also recently partnered up with the U.K.’s Evrythng on identity management for the internet of things.

This article was updated at 6.40am PT to clarify the nature of Thinfilm and Xerox’s collaboration over the last several years.

Norway’s Thin Film gets $23M to fund printed electronics roadmap

The Norwegian printed electronics firm Thin Film – which we recently covered for its smart label partnership with Cisco-backed Evrythng – has taken a healthy $23 million in investment from local conglomerate Ferd. Thin Film CEO Davor Sutija said in a statement that the investment, for a 7.3 percent stake, “fully funds” the firm’s current product roadmap. Printed electronics are generally pretty cheap to implement, and Thin Film (an entry on our Mobile 15 list a couple years back) wants to add electronic functionality to items such as perishable food packaging, disposable goods, single-use medical products and so on.

The Internet of things is coming to a grocery store near you

Thin Film Electronics, a company that makes printed circuits that can be built into packaging materials and Bemis, a manufacturer of both consumer products and wholesale packaging have signed an agreement that will add circuits to your cereal box. Or maybe sensors to your salad bags.

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