Screens on hair dye boxes could keep track of time

Electronic screens on paper packages means products like hair dye, pregnancy tests, or baking mixes could include a countdown timer or "traffic light" system on the side of a package to indicate when a timed product is ready. (Credit: iStockphoto)

A new way to attach electronics to paper-based packages means a box of hair dye or brownie mix could come with a countdown screen that signals when the product is ready.

Such screens could replace labels or display messages to customers—imagine the marketing possibilities.

“Labels on packaging could become much more innovative, and allow customers to interact with and explore new products,” says David Lidzey, a professor in physics and astronomy at the University of Sheffield. “The use of displays or light-emitting panels on packaging will also allow companies to communicate brand awareness in a more sophisticated manner.”

Lidzey and colleagues explain how the technology works in a paper published in the IEEE Journal of Display Technology.

Not just for paper?

The process involves printing electronic tracks onto paper and then fixing low-cost electronics and a polymer LED display to the paper using an adhesive that conducts electricity.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield collaborated with technology company Novalia to design and construct a touch-pad keyboard on the paper that allows a user to selectively “drive” the LEDs in the display.

The technology has only been tested on paper packages so far, but could potentially be printed on other surfaces.

The team’s next steps are to create fully flexible organic displays on a plastic substrate that then fix onto the electronic tracks. The LED devices need to be low-cost and flexible enough to be used on all packaging.

“The paper-based packaging industry is worth billions of dollars. This innovative system we have developed with the University of Sheffield could give manufacturers a way to gain market share by being able to distinguish its products from competitors,” says Chris Jones from Novalia.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded the work.

Source: University of Sheffield