Smart tag protects Johnnie Walker bottles

Johnnie Walker smart labelDrinks manufacturer Diageo and Thin Film Electronics have developed a "smart bottle" that can reveal if it is genuine or has been tampered with.

The prototype Johnnie Walker Blue Label bottle can also be used to track the product through the supply chain and send targeted marketing and other messages to consumers via their smartphones, according to the two companies.

The smart bottle uses a printed sensor tag developed by Norway-based TFE - called OpenSense - which can detect both the sealed and opened state of each bottle and link with a smartphone using near-field communication (NFC) technology.

TFE acquired the technology behind the tag - which is a printed poly-silicon NFC readable sensor - when it acquired US company Kovio Technology for €2.7m last year. The deal married Thinfilm's range of printed electronic sensor labels to the NFC connectivity developed by Kovio, and has also led to the development of smartphone-readable temperature sensing labels, amongst others.

The tag will allow Diageo to track bottle movements "across the supply chain, in-store and to the point of consumption", with the sensor tags remaining readable even when the factory seal has been broken.

That will provide an additional layer of security in protecting the authenticity of the product, says the company, which has been battling counterfeiters of its brands for many years.

The company joined other alcoholic beverage producers last year and started adding an invisible and tasteless sugar dye to key brands - including Gordons Gin and Smirnoff Vodka - to allow Trading Standards officers to distinguish between genuine and fake versions in the field using a simple litmus paper-like test.

Moreover, the smart label technology has significant advantages over printed security features such as QR codes.

QR codes are "difficult to read, easy to copy, and do not support sensor integration," it notes, adding that the OpenSense tags "can dynamically detect if a bottle is sealed or open with the simple tap of an NFC smartphone."

To ensure authenticity, the tags are permanently encoded at the point of manufacture and cannot be copied or electrically modified, claim the companies.

Moreover, the tag "will make it possible to send consumers targeted and timely marketing messages, whether at retail or after purchase, such as promotional offers, cocktail recipes and exclusive content," said Diageo in a statement.

Global innovation director at Diageo - Helen Michels - said: "Mobile technology is changing the way we live, and as a consumer brands company we want to embrace its power to deliver amazing new consumer experiences in the future."

Thinfilm chief executive Davor Sutija  also points out that the communication is two-way, and Diageo "can reap the benefits of the intelligence gleaned from our smart sensors and create engaging experiences for its customers.

"This is how we will begin to build the real Internet of Everything."

The prototype will be officially launched at Mobile World Congress, taking place March 2-5 in Barcelona, Spain.

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