RFID helps create the paper computer

CeBIT: Welcome to the world of intelligent paper. Smart parcels and pill packets could soon be sensing their environment and recording how you are feeling

Swedish technology firm Cypak has been demonstrating what it claims is the world's first disposable paper PC at CeBIT this week.

The company has developed a way of using radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in packaging that also contains printable sensors and other embedded electronic circuits. This creates what Cypak calls a "disposable paperboard computer", which could see widespread commercial deployment as companies in a range of sectors look to realise the potential of RFID.

"We are adding intelligence to packaging using RFID," Stina Ehrensvard, founder and marketing director of Cypak, told ZDNet UK on Friday. Although nothing like a modern PC, Cypak says that its creation deserves to be called a paper computer because the product is capable of collecting, processing and exchanging data.

Ehrensvard showed how Cypak's technology has been used in a packet of medicinal pills. The packet records when each pill is popped out of its individual slot, and also lets the recipient register details such as how well they slept that night and whether they have suffered any side effects.

When the packet is placed on a sensor device connected to a PC, this information is automatically sent back over the Internet to a doctor or pharmaceutical firm.

According to Ehrensvard, there is also major potential for its system in the postal sector. The Swedish postal service is already trialling Cypak's system, and Deutsche Post is also expressing interest.

"In the future, the Cypak system could be used in packaging for valuable items as it can record if a package has been opened during transit, which could mean that someone has stolen something. It's also suitable for fragile things that need to be kept at a certain temperature, as it would show whether or not this temperature has been kept to," said Ehrensvard.

Another product on display is a smartcard with a numerical keyboard, pre-programmed with the URL of a bank. The user places the card on a sensor linked to their PC and type their pin number in, to get access to their electronic bank account.

Cypak says this avoids the danger of typing a pin number directly into a computer keyboard where keystrokes can be recorded by viruses or Trojans. It also gets around the problem of phishing, as a user can be certain that they are logged into a genuine banking Web site.

During their time at CeBIT, Ehrensvard and her colleagues are meeting security firms, manufacturers and systems integrators.

"In a year's time, or maybe just half a year, some of these items will be mass-market products," predicted Ehrensvard.