Talking packaging

Cigarette packs that shout out health warnings and cartons that instruct you how to open them and throw them away are just years away, say Swedish researchers who have developed ‘talking paper’.

The team at Mid Sweden University have created interactive billboards by using conductive inks to print sensors and speakers onto paper.  The billboards can play recorded sounds including music and speech in response to a user’s touch.

Senior researcher Professor Hans-Erik Nilsson said the next step would be to scale down the technology to develop packaging that can talk to consumers.  The project is backed by Swedish paper and packaging group SCA.

Professor Nilsson said the main focus so far was on how the technology could deliver advertising messages and boost sales. “If you have interaction with packaging, it becomes more attractive,” he said. “Of course, you can use it for instructions like how to open the pack.”  The technology could also provide health warnings and benefit the partially sighted and blind, he added.

The main hurdles are integrating a power source and the intelligence into smaller, flexible formats while ensuring good sound quality.  But Professor Nilsson said it would be possible to create talking packaging for luxury goods now.
“If it is high-cost packaging, there are solutions – everything is related to cost,” he said. “We can do it but to make it at a cost level that’s acceptable for most producers is five years away.”

However, independent packaging consultant Dr Paul Butler said talking packs were “far out in the future”.  “In a way it’s running before you can walk,” he said. “We do need to increase the communication aspect of packaging beyond the printed word.
“But rather than exploring talking papers, it would make more sense to look at creating moving images on packs.”