From the ‘Breadbot’ to baum cakes that turn like vinyl records - the future of robots is here
"Product packaging, you might think, is something that hasn’t changed much over the last few decades. While we might have access to better printers, embossed labelling and other such niceties, the fundamental role of packaging has remained, pretty much, the same," said Gavin Killeen, MD, Nuprint.
"But digital technology is in the process of transforming the way we package certain sorts of product, much as it has transformed every other area of modern life."
Here Killeen shares the three areas of innovation to look out for;
'When you’re buying any sort of perishable good, such as bread or pastries, one piece of information stands head-and-shoulders above the rest: is the product safe to consume?
For decades, we’ve been relying on use-by labels to determine this. But the date printed on the package is only a conservative estimate of when the product will go bad. It does not, and cannot, take into account the way in which the product has been stored when in transit from factory to distributor to shop to home.
That’s where temperature-and-time-trackers come in. These tiny microchips are built into the package itself, and account for all this information. They display whether the product is safe to consume using a small traffic-light indicator on the front. Red means the product has gone bad; green means it’s safe.
This technology not only benefits the end user, but also provides manufacturers with a means of troubleshooting their supply chains. TT-labelling means we can dispense with cumbersome data-loggers in favour of a smartphone with an Android OS. This helps to enormously cut costs, and ensures anyone can easily keep track of the supply chain.'
Augmented Reality (AR) refers to the practice of supplementing a real-world setting or object with digital information. Including AR in packaging allows us to include additional text, images, and videos along with the product’s label. So, if the user wanted to know what’s inside a pre-made cake or cereal bar, they could scan the barcode with a special app and be presented with a list of ingredients. This would remove ugly, unnecessary text from the packaging itself, and allow the information to be edited even after the product has been released.
Some brands are going even further with their packaging, such as Japanese confectioners La Famille. They have created baum cakes in the shape of vinyl records, and after downloading the COCOAR2 app, customers can watch the cake spinningas though it was a real record. It plays a song, as well.
Advertised in its café/restaurant in Takamatsu on Shikoku Island as a ‘unique gift item’, the musical AR cakes come in the form of a vinyl record.
Called ‘Baum Records’ the product consists of a dark chocolate and black cocoa flavored base and is made in the shape of a traditional vinyl LP.
When consumers download the COCOAR2 iOS or Android app they will see a visual of the cake spinning as if a real record, a song will sound and a special message will appear on the screen.
The song, message and packaging can be changed and personalized for different occasions, such as birthdays or anniversaries.
The product, which was launched commercially in Japan after an internet money raising campaign, is on sale online for ¥1,800 ($16).
Although originating in Germany and Hungary baumkuchen cakes, a traditional style of dessert, has been popular in Japan for many years.
"To do this, of course, you need a smartphone. But for millennials, this isn’t a problem: more than 95% of them are carrying such a device. AR represents a valuable opportunity not only to provide the end user with content they’ll appreciate, but to track their behaviour, since every time an item is scanned, it’ll be logged. This information can then be used to develop new and improved marketing strategies," said Killeen.
Robots are used extensively in the manufacture of modern food products - they can divide, package and cook food with unparalleled efficiency.
For example, Wilkinson Baking Company has recently released what they have dubbed the BreadBot. Occupying 120” x 53”, this robotic baker can produce 10 loaves an hour, self-clean and call on staff members for help.
The only jobs staff need to do is to refill it with bread mix, wipe down the surfaces and slice bread – allowing them to finish other tasks.
Boston Dynamics recently demonstrated its Handle robot in action, programming it to stack and organise boxeswith impressive accuracy.
Handle is a robot that uses legs and wheels to provide highly agile and small-footprint material handling for logistics. Using an active counterbalancing system, it can pick up and move cases weighing over 30lbs.
It combines the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation characteristics of quadruped or humanoid robots, but in a significantly simplified system. The combination of power and agility make Handle capable of automating difficult manipulation tasks in human-sized environments without the need for installing additional equipment.
Despite early teething problems for in-restaurant cooking robots, factory-level manufacturing robots are already with us.
"The right product will benefit enormously from digital packaging. In the case of time-and-temperature-sensing packages, this not only provides valuable and unambiguous information to the end user, but helps manufacturers to cut equipment costs, troubleshoot supply chains and eliminate waste. With such benefits now within reach of even smaller businesses, there’s plenty to get excited about in the future of food packaging," added Killeen.