Smart Packaging Brings Light-Up Cereal, Self-Heating Soup Cans

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Your grocery shopping experience could soon be riddled with special effects. At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, intelligent power companies Fulton Innovations and eCoupled debuted a new smart packaging technology, an amazing use of induction power that actually illuminates products as they rest on shelves. (Trust me, I’ve seen the future of your cereal box and I’ve deemed it glorious.) Printed coils are incorporated into merchandise boxes that flicker on the shelf. The packages aren’t just lighting up, they’re actively flashing to grab your attention. Powered by a small magnetic inductors installed under the store’s shelves, boxes receive electricity through magnetic fields instead of through the standard cord. One inductor has enough oomph to blind you with an entire shelf full of flickering Trix boxes. Impressive.

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The cord-free power source is an electromagnetic channel with an intelligent control system, meaning it supplies only the amount of electricity needed to operate or charge each specific device it’s currently powering. Packaging is powered through eCoupled’s printable coils (which they swear is environmentally friendly), a paper-thin technology that embeds operable electric units right into a product’s box, creating twinkling breakfast foods that offer real-time communication with retailers. With intelligent packaging, stores will be able to track the items on shelves, monitor expiration dates and even automatically order new shipments when products run low. The same advantages will also be offered to customers, as the technology works identically at home, providing shoppers with pantry intel via their smartphones or computers. By looking online, shoppers will know how many packages are in your pantry, what the expiration dates may be, as well as the nutrition information. And they didn’t stop with cereal. Fulton has also created the self-heating soup can, a typical soup container which can be turned on once placed on a wirelessly powered surface to self-heat to perfect soup temperature.

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eCoupled’s ultimate goal is to completely eliminate the need for outlets by installing small intelligent power sources into walls, shelves, desks and tables to power all of our home devices (TVs, computers, lights), but products have actually been available since 2000, when the Alticor eSpring Water Purifier hit the market. Since eCoupled-enabled products like Dell’s Latitude Z and the Energizer Hard Case Professional Swivel Light have been released, with more slated to debut in 2010. There’s little information on the cost of installation to ready your home for some of the upcoming smart appliances like a skillet and blender powered via inductors installed into counter tops. Aside from something of a space-age darling for those seeking to Trek-up their daily lives, wireless power is a highly efficient energy saver with the potential to not only drive down costs for homeowners, put to eliminate unnecessary power use worldwide. A full-scale implementation is likely decades away, but until then, we might as well watch that Silly Rabbit flicker its way through our shopping experience.

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