Collaborating to Prototype a New Smart Packaging Concept


A particularly tricky prototype

Prototyping is a fundamental part of the design process. By creating an early model of a concept, you can evaluate the design, challenge the idea, explore specifications for the real system to come.

The user experience (UX) designers at PARC have extensive experience prototyping for projects across a diverse range of industries, and they knew that to most effectively demonstrate their latest smart packaging concept, they’d need the right prototype. After all, what’s the easiest way to explain how sensor-enabled smart labels can revolutionize cold chain logistics by way of RFID readers that monitor conditions like temperature and humidity in real time across the logistics chain? You show it in action.

“For this demo, we had to get our smart packaging data from a fairly unique, esoteric RFID reader,” said Mike Kuniavsky, who leads PARC’s Innovation Services Group. “We were eager to join forces with Topp, who, like PARC, is interested in, among other things, exploring how to rapidly prototype IoT user experiences from a design perspective. It was a natural fit.”

The collaboration with Topp

Topp is a design and innovation company based in Sweden and San Francisco, made up of designers, researchers and technologists. Their prototyping platform Noodl enables users to create dynamic interactive experiences using a visual interface of nodes and hierarchies, rather than code.

The printed sensing labels and real-time dashboard used in the demo

“Prototyping with real data, coming from actual sensors and hardware, is increasingly becoming an essential part of the design process,” said Nathan Folkman, Head of Technology at Topp. “Noodl is a tool that’s specialized in creating refined experiences with complex technology. It enables designers, engineers, researchers, and others to more easily collaborate and rapidly prototype experiences that are close to what the final shipping product will be.”

For the smart packaging demo, the teams from PARC and Topp worked on getting the RFID reader integrated into Noodl to effectively prototype the concept. The team at Topp then wrote the code that was instrumental in getting the data on mock chemical bottle smart labels from the RFID reader to a real-time user dashboard showing, in this case, temperature and humidity levels.

“The demo showed how state-of-the-art printed electronics, sensors and software could come together as a configurable platform that can track a variety of environmental factors, depending on the deployment,” said PARC Designer Nicholas Meehan.

The prototype was successfully completed and first demonstrated at IDTechEx Show last year in Santa Clara. In addition to the PARC-led demo, users could easily scan the bottles themselves and see the real-time updates on the nearby dashboard.

Made possible through collaboration

Smart packaging is an exciting area of interest for PARC, one that has the potential to revolutionize cold chain logistics, as well as retail in general. The working prototype was an important ingredient in communicating PARC’s vision for smart packaging to a broader audience.

Collaboration comes in many forms. For PARC, open innovation – an information age mindset toward openness between organizations rather than silos – is an essential ingredient to how we work with partners. In this case, a friendly collaboration between two organizations with similar goals enabled the best possible prototype.

Learn more about Topp’s prototyping capabilities as well as PARC’s latest smart packaging work.


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