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Smart Packaging for ripe monitoring


The problem
Innovation in the field of food production, storage and distribution is an extreme urgency in current times to solve hunger problems that still affect several parts of the world. Food losses during the processing, distribution, and consumption stages represent 1/3 of the total amount produced in the world, accounting for approximately 1.3 billion tons per year. Fruits and vegetables are living biological bodies, having a respiratory mechanism that goes on throughout their living processes and even after harvest. By respiration, fruits and vegetables take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. Therefore, the handling and packaging of fruits are key toward maintaining their freshness until they reach the consumer's table. Packaging has been meant traditionally as a container for food, to improve efficiency of transportation on processing lines, prevent food from damaging and maintain food quality and safety till consumers. However, fruit and vegetables ripening goes on during the transport chain and to date there is no quantitative and automatic system to assess the quality status of fruit ripeness, as late-season skin darkening can also occur before harvest, while low temperature storage can produce fruits with reduced skin darkening. At the same time, squeezing the fruit to assess its firmness not only damages the fruit but even raises serious hygiene concerns. 
Our solution
Smart packaging systems are capable to enhance the function of packaging by interacting with food and/or environment, helping to monitor the conditions and quality of products through specific indicators for the reduction of waste and the preservation of consumer health and safety. Fruit freshness sensors or indicators can sense and show the fruit quality status indicators, such as freshness, ripeness, leak, microbial pathogens, and emitted gases (correlated to food safety), thus helping consumers to choose the optimal fruit with a data-driven approach. The use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies for Smart Packaging may enable advances in the monitoring of the product conditions and in the control of logistics activities, thus allowing a reduction in food losses, but also improving the customer experience with fruit selection. Radio6ense contributes to the development of Smart Ripe - Ripening & Intelligent Packaging Experience (SmartRiPE® il packaging intelligente | ILIP S.r.l. Passion for Packaging) under a project supported by Ilip and in collaboration with the University of Torinno - DISAFA (Dipartimento di Scienze Agrarie, Forestali e Alimentari). Radio6ense developed the system that includes battery-less wireless RFID transducers integrated into a low-cost intelligent packaging, a smart shelf for the real-time detection of useful electromagnetic-based indicators and an AI algorithm for evaluating the stage of fruit ripening. The analog electromagnetic response of the tags to the RFID reader interrogation has been exploited as the core of the classification problem, following a sensor-less approach. Indeed, signals received and backscattered by the tag during communication with the reader are affected by changes occurring when the fruit ripens, and thus they provide indirect information about the status of the fruit itself.
Expected benefits
Smart Ripe opens up new possibilities for warehouse management: it enables a better identification of the best moment to display fruits on the shelf, contributing to minimize food waste. The cost of the sensing transducer to be applied on each smart packaging of fruit is a key driver for technology adoption and needs to be kept at minimum. Smart Ripe implements a low-cost technology based on Radiofrequency Identification (RFID), by avoiding the use of external chemical and physical sensors. Moreover, the method is non-destructive: tagged fruits can be monitored all along the supply chain with different kinds of architecture, including both mobile readers ad fixed gate-like stations of measurement. At the customer level, the system looks like a closed box that includes all components, in the form of an "infodesk" with user-friendly interface, giving the customer clear indication of different fruit ripening stages. The Smart Ripe system includes an automatic classification procedure based on Artificial Intelligence to predict  three-level state of the fruit (unripe, ripe and overripe), validated by massive experimental tests in realistic scenarios.  The system architecture allows for addition of further functions, needed in specific contexts in food sector and beyond (such as Pharma). For instance, additional logistics functions and the integration with specific sensors (temperature, moisture, chemical indicators etc...) can be included in the system, enabling the smart packaging for more specific monitoring following the paradigm of Industry 4.0. 

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