The era of the ‘Internet of Boxes’

2nd February 2021
Joe Bush

The increasing strides made by technology are helping to advance our society in innumerable ways. Whether it is the tech being using at the coalface of vaccine development in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus pandemic, or the increasing drive towards autonomous vehicles within the automotive sector, technology is playing its part.

Nowhere is the influence of technology more apparent, however, than in the green agenda, and in the building of the solutions that will enhance the capabilities of people, organisations, and the world at large to be more sustainable. It is helping us to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, minimise carbon emissions, and reduce power consumption.

Within the semiconductor industry, NXP has made it the company’s corporate responsibility to make a positive impact on society, build on innovation, and provide technologies that address societal demands – making systems smarter, while consuming less energy. A vital area where NXP is making strides in this regard is smart packaging.

Intelligent packaging

Research into e-commerce has shown that this area of society is only going one way. Pitney Bowes, a technology company providing commerce solutions in the areas of e-commerce, shipping, mailing, data and financial services, has shown that global parcel volume surpassed 100 billion in 2019. It estimates that volume will increase still further and more than double over the next five years, reaching 260-262 billion parcels by 2026.

That’s quit a significant increase, and when you consider that three of every five parcels shipped in the world’s major markets is generated in the faced-paced economy of China, then it’s little wonder why these figures are set to explode.

Those of a certain age will remember when Amazon was simply an online bookshop. Now the advance of Amazon Logistics as a major market player has seen the delivery of 1.9 billion packages in the US alone through its in-house delivery network, showing a 155% parcel volume growth in 2019 year-over-year and forecasting its CAGR at 30% from 2020-2024.

Rapid growth such as this has also influenced our outlook as consumers. We are now demanding flexible and fast deliveries (often next day), that we can track accurately, with the cost of delivery often in the hands of the retailer.

As consumers the environmental impact of our purchases are also higher on the agenda than ever before. As such we are not just leaning more towards more ethical, sustainable products, but also in the method in which those products are delivered to us – the method of transport; mileage of travel, packaging materials used, amount of packaging space wasted etc.

All this is rapidly accelerating the demand for sustainable shipments and e-commerce companies are experimenting with eco-friendly ways of shipping parcels. This is a pressing concern in Europe as the EU Commission introduced ambitious plans early in 2019 to have all plastic packaging placed on the EU market as reusable or recyclable by 2030.

Enter the IoB – ‘Internet of Boxes’

Connected and intelligent packaging can transform businesses, and protect consumers and societies alike. Integrating smart and secure edge connectivity technologies into shipping parcels and packaging allows connections to the cloud to be established and services to be digitised.

NXP’s portfolio of MCUs, RFID, NFC, security and sensing chips are playing a key role in the world of logistics, retail and smart packaging, and has worked with US-based food company Kraft Heinz on its biggest deployment of NFC-based intelligent packaging to date.

Kraft Heinz utilised NXP’s tamper-evident NFC tags to engineer an intelligent IRC (Instantly Redeemable Coupon) label (believed to be the first of its kind) and used it as part of a promotional campaign that creates more meaningful connections with Kraft Heinz customers, inside the store before the customer’s purchase, and after the purchase when the product was opened at home.

There is a small conductive loop inside the NTAG 213 TagTamper that indicates package open/closed status. On startup, the tag checks the loop. A closed loop indicates the package seal is intact, while an open loop indicates if the package’s seal has been broken and the product may have been interfered with. If the tag detects an open loop, it records the status in the memory and reports it whenever the tag is read.

While this is an easy-to-use method to ensure that foods, beverages, medications, and other consumer packaged goods remain in their original condition while travelling through the supply chain and are safe to use, with the Kraft Heinz project, NXP turned that concept on its head. Instead of the NTAG 213 TagTamper reporting status to inspectors in the supply chain, it communicates directly with consumers, before and after the sale.

In another use case, NXP’s RAIN RFID has been successfully deployed within Canadian-based sports apparel company lululemon. The company’s average US store is approximately 3,000 square feet and carries roughly 15,000 SKUs, from yoga mats to running shorts. The average product lifecycle in the store is less than 45 days, and with products selling so quickly, re-stocking shipments can be a challenge.

With regular RAIN RFID inventory counts, and a process for fast replenishment of store shelves, the company reduced the number of SKUs languishing in the stock room by 90%. The RAIN RFID programme has led to an increase in lululemon’s sales figures, including online purchases. As part of its omnichannel approach, which connects customers whether they’re on-site or online, lululemon offers a mobile app that lets customers check inventory at their local store, so they know right away if a certain colour and/or size is in stock.

NXP’s NFC healthcare labels and packaging can also be used to combat the spread of COVID-19 – supporting the need to get healthcare supplies to end users safely and to protect patients while offering healthcare workers secure access to accurate diagnostics and life-saving treatments.

Joining forces

In its latest development, and to enhance NXP’s sustainability offering still further, the company has partnered with LivingPackets, a manufacturer of an intelligent, durable, connected shipping parcel which is aiming to reinvent smart packaging. THE BOX represents a successful implementation of NXP’s edge and connectivity technologies that enable more efficient e-commerce operations with greater traceability for more convenient consumer experiences while reducing the impact on society.

“NXP offers an extensive portfolio of edge and connectivity technologies to enable sustainable, efficient e-commerce and smart packaging solutions, which is proven in THE BOX by LivingPackets,” said Olivier Cottereau, Senior Vice President EMEA and SAPAC Sales and Marketing with NXP. “The intelligent box also reflects our commitment to green solutions that support NXP’s Sustainability Program.”

“THE BOX will be the foundation for a new space of possibilities in the world of logistics,” said Fabian Kliem, CTO at LivingPackets. “With the help of innovative technologies from companies like NXP we will make the delivery experience more affordable, convenient and more efficient. Both for customers and businesses.”

THE BOX is fully recyclable and infinitely reusable with a rechargeable battery and assessed for reconditioning after 1,000 trips. Its rigid and durable case material with shock absorption protects each delivery. The innovative holding system inside THE BOX eliminates packaging waste, such as filling materials and tapes. Labelling and printing are replaced with electronic labels displayed via an onboard tablet display, adding the ability to dynamically change delivery addresses to further reduce the carbon footprint of logistics.  

Each of the LivingPackets shipping boxes includes a small tablet powered by NXP’s i.MX RT1062 crossover MCU that combines high performance and integration for IoT devices. The processor features integrated security capabilities, such as secure boot that helps protect THE BOX tablet from malware and other unknown software.

Additionally, THE BOX includes NXP’s NFC technology in the form of CLRC663 plus frontend and NTAG I2C plus connected tags to make it possible for consumers to simply tap their smartphone to the box in order to accept or reject the parcel and authenticate themselves. Designed to be an enabler for interactive consumer applications, NXP’s NFC frontend solutions offer a flexible way to add NFC functionality to a system, and in combination with connected NFC tags, provide a cost-effective way to add tap-and-go connectivity to electronic devices.

i.MX RT1062 is a crossover MCU that combines performance and integration for IoT devices. Its secure boot feature helps protect from Malware and unknown software.

CLRC663 is a high-performance NFC front-end that offers an easy way to add NFC functionality to a system. It supports various NFC tags, and the NFC reader supports battery powered systems and works in demanding environments.

NTAG I2C plus combines a passive NFC interface with a contact I2C interface. It is a cost-effective, connected tag that adds tap-and-go connectivity to electronic devices. It authenticates the identity of the recipient and allows them to accept or reject a parcel by tapping an NFC-enabled smartphone to the box / NFC tag.

The solution helps meet the needs of eco-friendly e-commerce while at the same time, advancing logistics. THE BOX is fully recyclable and infinitely reusable. Its rigid and durable case protects each delivery, and packaging waste, labelling and printing are eliminated.

It offers a plug-and-play solution with easy integration for lean warehouses, and end-to-end visibility and tracking of parcels. It also caters to the rapidly changing expectations of the end customer who can accept, reject, and unlock parcels via NFC; track their shipments in real-time; while experiencing easier management, drop-offs and returns of their e-commerce orders.

Features of THE BOX

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