Smart codes for future services

Have you seen 2D codes in the market? Have you read them by your mobile phone? Do you read the codes regularly? Have you been interested in the content you are able to find behind the codes?

Smart codes

These are some of the questions we asked from Finnish consumers. And actually, we were not surprised about the answers we got. It was clear that people in Finland are familiar with 2D codes. All the participants had seen the codes for example in the packages, advertisements and tickets. Three out of four had read 2D codes with their smart phones but only 17% said that they read the codes regularly. They had found out that the information behind the codes is boring, usually only a link to the manufacturer’s or service provider’s web page.

New content for the codes

But this is not the case after TagItSmart project! TagItSmart project is part of Horizon 2020 program. In the project, we have altogether 15 partners from Finland, Serbia, United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Romania, Netherlands, Italia, Austria and Spain.

TagItSmart project sets out to redefine the way we think of everyday mass-market objects not normally considered as part of an IoT ecosystem. These new smarter objects will dynamically change their status in response to a variety of factors and be seamlessly tracked during their lifecycle. This will change the way users-to-things interactions are viewed.

Combining the power of functional inks with the pervasiveness of digital (e.g. QR-codes) and electronic (e.g. NFC tags) markers, billions of objects will embed cheap sensing capabilities thus being able to capture new contextual information. Functional inks make it possible for parts of the 2D code to disappear, to appear, or to change colour e.g. after certain time or at certain temperature. These changes in codes enable changing the information content achievable through reading the codes. Beside this, the ubiquitous presence of smartphones with their cameras and NFC readers will create the perfect bridge between everyday users and their objects. This will create a completely new flow of crowdsourced information, which extracted from the objects and enriched with user data, can be exploited by new services.

Where to utilize these smart codes?

In the TagItSmart project, the use of these smart codes has been explained with some concept stories. In the first story, Digital product and recycling, the idea is described by using beer bottles from a local brewery as an example. The consumer in this story has bought a bottle of beer from a local producer and read a unique code from the label on the bottle. The consumer receive useful and entertaining information e.g. about the origin of ingredients, the producer, recycling of the package, and also information if the temperature of the beer is optimal for drinking. By reading the code the consumer is also able to create an interactive connection with the local producer, that makes it possible e.g. to personalize an own drink together with the producer and order the drinks via a digital service.

The second story, Fast moving consumer goods and dynamic pricing, describes a situation in a retail store, where the consumer can easily get information if the best before date of the product is close enough to get a discount. This can be done by LED lights that automatically turn on after a certain time period. While being informative towards the consumer, it also makes the work of the retailer more effective. The retailer can also by reading the codes ensure that the products that arrive to the store, are in good condition after transportation and also the origin of the products. In this story meat products are used as an example, so for example ensuring that the temperature has been correct during transportation is very important for all the stakeholders.

In the third story, Authenticity of the products, a family is on holiday abroad. There, they were able to ensure the authenticity of the medicine and sun classes they purchased by reading the 2D codes from the products in certain lighting conditions. Similar authenticity check could also be done with other products purchased from the internet.

Consumers expect additional value and interactivity

Finnish consumers had a possibility to participate the development work in VTT’s Owela platform ( and evaluate and co-develop the concepts. In the study, consumers found all of these concepts interesting. Seventy-nine percent of the participants evaluated it to be interesting to read the codes from local producers’ products and to create an interactive relationship. To utilize the codes in fast moving consumer goods, like meat packages, was in the interest of 55% of the participants. Finnish consumers did not see so much potential in using the codes in cheap products and they were not concerned about the origin and safety of the products. This could have been different in some other country.

In addition, we got lots of information about the advantages of the TagItSmart concepts, and also about consumers’ consernes related to them. First, even if consumers are used to seeing and using 2D codes, they have often been disappointed with the content they can receive by reading the codes. They expect something more – high quality content that offers them additional value. In addition, consumers were also interested in the possibility of interactivity. There were most potential in using codes in unique and/or personalized products, ensuring food safety of the authenticity of the products and also in creationg interactive connection with producers.

Based on this study, consumers were suspicious about if it is too easy to counterfeit the codes, recycling of the tags and also privacy issues related to the novel IoT services. It is essential that the consumers can trust the service and service provider. This issue has a significant role also in TagItSmart project.

This is now our second year in the TagItSmart project. I expect that we are able to have these solutions available in the market after the project. You can follow us in the internet (, on Twitter (@TagItSmart) and LinkedIn (TagItSmart).

Kaisa Vehmas VTT

Kaisa Vehmas
Senior Scientist

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