While the prospect of having animated cartoons on a child’s cereal box may be appealing in science fiction movies, such as in the video below from the 2002 film “Minority Report”, it may not make quite as much sense in the bean counting world of business.
“Smart packaging” as it has come to be known would interact with the user, perhaps providing nutritional information or some cartoon like in the film clip above. But when one considers you might be using it on a box of cereal that you would sell for a few dollars and then would get thrown out with the trash it hardly seems worth the expense.I suggested almost six years ago in a report I authored for Pira Intl. "The Future of Nanotechnology in Printing and Packaging" that you might see this kind of packaging made available for high-ticket items like luxury goods, but it would be hard to see the economics of using this technology on disposal products.
But this kind of technology so excites our imagination that companies continue to pursue its realization. One of these companies is Dublin-based Ntera who is making the news again, such as here and here with their Nanochromics technology.
Ntera was launched back in 1997 as a spin-out from the University College of Dublin. Typical of most technology-driven start-ups they pursued a number of possible application areas before settling down on electronic displays.
Once they did they pursued "nanochromics". The term nanochromics is one of those nano-centric turns of phrase that plays off the term electrochromics technology that we are all familiar with on the rear view mirrors of our automobiles. The nanochromics technology uses nanostructured films to comprise the electrochemical cell and limitations in switching speed have been overcome by molecular design.
Dr. David Corr, President and CEO of Ntera, is correct in his assessment; we are seeing a new era in the technology of printed electronics with the ability to now print “multi-layered components such as batteries, diodes, transistors, memory, solar cells and displays.”
But one can’t help but wonder whether we are seeing an example of a technology in search of an application. Where is the market pull for these types of printed electronics for packaging? I am not suggesting they don’t exist, but sorting out where that market pull is coming from seems at least as important as refining the technology.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.