The supermarket checkout operator could become a thing of the past if a new British development fulfils its early promise.
Government-owned research group Qinetiq has claimed that by using metallic inks it could produce cheap security tags and even packaging bar codes that can be read using radio-frequency communications devices.
The development would mean that goods in a supermarket trolley could be scanned automatically at the point at which the shopper walks out of the store, and the amount charged to their account.
Qinetic Metal Printing is a spin-off from a defence project (Qinetiq was formerly the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency) and, according to the company, its potential applications include security tags and labels, smart cards, magnetic bar codes and antennae.
Radio frequency identifier tags currently cost around 50p to produce, limiting their use to high-value items.
Sean Duggan, business development manager at Qinetiq, explained that the new technology could bring down production costs by "20 per cent plus" initially, and more once it is used in volume.
Qinetiq has set up a manufacturing facility for the metallic printing at its headquarters in Farnborough, Hampshire, but Duggan said that the company will be looking to license the process out to other manufacturers.
Tony Savage, chief consultant at retail specialists RMDP, said: "If it does what it says, this could be the breakthrough we have all been waiting for.
"It would have a similar effect to when we first got source bar coding adopted on product packaging."
The government recently dropped a planned flotation of Qinetiq on the London Stock Exchange and is now looking for investment partners to take a stake in the company.
Qinetiq found infamy recently when the website it designed to host the 1901 census information crashed repeatedly under the weight of massive interest.
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