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NFC Spices Up Meals for Intelligent Rack Users

Startup TasteTro has developed a spice system that leverages an NFC RFID reader from RFID Canada, as well as and tags on spice pods, to mix, dispense and manage data about a user's spice preferences.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 18, 2018

TasteTro is preparing the launch of an automated spice rack that employs Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID technology to help consumers more easily select and access spices and blends for each recipe. The system also provides a means of communication between consumers using the device and TasteTro.

The TasteTro Spice System is an intelligent spice rack designed for use in household kitchens. It provides users with selected, measured spices and blends for a specific recipe, at the press of a button, and they can scroll through and select from preprogrammed blends. The spices are then dispensed from the appliance, ranging from a quarter-teaspoon to a tablespoon for individual spices or herbs and up to one-quarter cup of a variety of blends. NFC 13.56 MHz technology, compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, enables the system to identify which spices were loaded, then access and dispense them when they are requested, and track when they need to be replenished in the rack.

The TasteTro Spice System
The automated spice rack has been many years in the making, says James Murray, TasteTro's co-founder and CEO. In fact, he launched the Calgary-based company in 2012 to provide relief for busy people challenged with dinner recipe and menu decisions. "We worked with a team of chefs and nutritionists" to develop content for the system, he says, and engineers and an industrial designer for the system development, "trying to target those who are struggling Monday through Friday with the question 'What's for dinner?'"

The team also worked with several technology providers, including NFC and RFID company RFID Canada, to determine how the rack could identify each spice pod, and thereby know which spice to dispense, as well as how much has been dispensed and thus how soon the spice needs to be replaced.

TasteTro's James Murray
That discussion began approximately three years ago, recalls Bob Moroz, RFID Canada's president. The resulting product consists of a circular rack surrounded by spice pods, NFC labels on each pod, an RFID reader in the center of the console, firmware on the device, software hosted on a cloud-based server and TasteTro's own app.

TasteTro opted to provide 20 of the most popular spices (such as oregano, basil, thyme and pepper), as well as blend options; a total of 50 are available with the product's initial launch. Those blends can be used in recipes for Italian dressing, for instance, or for meat rubs, marinades or smoothies in some of the 20 pods. There is also a central chamber that stores and dispenses salt in addition to the pods.

When a spice or blend has been selected, the rack's turning console rotates the pods past the NFC reader built into the center base. TasteTro has not determined which of the NFC readers it has been testing will be built into the device. The pod itself, shaped like a pie wedge, comes with an NFC label attached to its bottom, measuring 33 millimeters by 81 millimeters (1.3 inches by 3.2 inches). The off-the-shelf labels come from a variety of suppliers, Moroz says.

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