Boxing clever – the smart packaging service for the Internet of Things

Boxing clever – the smart packaging service for the Internet of Things

Feature articles |
By Nick Flaherty

Embedded processor and RFID technology from NXP is enabling a new class of packaging-as-a-service in a smart box developed by a French startup.

The Covid-19 pandemic has driven a significant increase in home deliveries, and at the same time created a shortage of cardboard packaging. Cardboard is more difficult to recycle, limiting the source material for new packaging. Many suppliers are struggling to find the packaging they need to keep their products safe during transportation and that situation will get worse as EU regulations mean all packaging will have to recycled over the next few years.

The pandemic has also shown the need for more sophisticated monitoring of products in transit, particularly to check they stay in a certain temperature range and are not subject to sudden shocks. The package also needs to be accurately tracked and ensure that it arrives with the correct recipient.

All of this has driven the design of the packaging system developed by LivingPackets in Nantes, France, along with a new way of using packaging.

The smart box is made from recycled materials and is designed to be used time and time again. The company aims to make money by charging a small fee, €2, each time the box is used to ship something, roughly the same cost as the cardboard. Several of the 35 patents on the box design cover a method to hold an item securely inside the box without using plastic bubblewrap or more cardboard. This moves smart packaging down from high value applicaitons to more everyday shipping.   

The electronic lock ensures that only the agreed recipient can open the box by tapping their smartphone, eliminating thefts in transit, and the box has a camera and GNSS satellite positioning sensor to monitor its position.   

Next: Smart box ships 1000 times 

Consumers can then use the same smart box to ship their things for example sold on ebay, ship it back to the original supplier to reuse with a single click or to a local ‘guardian’ who can share the box with people that need it.

LivingPackets sees the box being used 1000 times, giving plenty of margin to pay for the technology at the heart of the service.

The smart box is based around a low power 7.8in e-ink display driven by an i.MX RT1062 crossover MCU. The processor features integrated security capabilities, such as secure boot that helps protect the box from malware and other unknown software, says Olivier Cottereau, Senior Vice President EMEA & SAPAC Sales & Marketing at NXP.

“The BOX includes NXP NFC technology in the form of CLRC663 plus frontend and NTAG I2C+ connected tags. This make it possible for consumers to simply tap their smartphone to the box in order to accept or reject the parcel and authenticate themselves,” he said.

The other tag is used to update the display with the shipping details and payment for the next delivery from the LP smartphone app, and can easily display the QR and bar codes that are increasingly used for logistics systems.

The i.MX processor also monitors the sensors around the box, that include temperature, shock and humidity measurements, and the box is tracked via an LTE-M modem. All this takes power, and the box has a rechargeable battery.

“We have different sensors covering the inside and outside of the box as well as the possibility to connect external sensors, for example when core temperature measurements are necessary,” said Fabian Kliem, CTO at LivingPackets. “The power consumption varies depending on usage but we can reach autonomy for around 180 days with standard usage,” he said, hence the value of the local guardians to recharge the smart box in the profit-sharing community model that is a wider part of its packaging-as-a-service.;

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