Say that you enter the grocery store looking for the perfect bottle of wine for that upcoming special occasion. You pass the shelf with the value wine and make your way down to the high-end stuff, where you’re then deciding between two bottles. Yes, there’s the label that you can read to get the gist of the difference between each one, but you want to know more. We suppose you could Google the wine and read up further on it from your smartphone, but that’s not exactly convenient. But what if you could scan a special 2D barcode on the label with your smartphone and have the wine actually talk to you?

Talking labels like this could soon be coming to a store near you, thanks to a Seattle-based startup’s development of Soundpaper, a system that’s able to convert ordinary substrates into a talking label of sorts by printing a special type of 2D barcode, which can store recordings. The barcode, developed by Labels That Talk, then integrates with a smartphone app, and, when scanned, will relay the audio to the consumer.

Though it’s called “Soundpaper,” Ken Berkun, Labels That Talk president and founder, notes that the technology has been successfully tested on many different substrates, including film.

“ ‘SoundPlastic’ isn’t as catchy,” he quips. “The whole idea behind Soundpaper is to store large quantities of data in a small area, and Soundpaper does this better than any other barcode. But as you grow to a minute of audio, even at 400 DPI, a barcode of 2.5 x 2.5 inches might be a little big. We think the sweet spot will be 10 to 20 seconds of audio – plus a URL linking to your website and maybe a discount coupon in the barcode itself. One of the great things about Soundpaper is its ability to store anything – not just audio – so you can be sure that the customer has heard your message and received your coupon, even when there is no or poor Internet connectivity.”

The sound quality is said to be better than telephone voice quality, and there’s no limitations as to where the labels need to be placed on a package for them to properly work. Berkun says the technology has received a lot of interest in packaging applications. Aside from talking packaging, he notes anti-counterfeiting and augmented reality for advertising and packaging as areas of interest.

Soundpaper isn’t currently commercially available. In fact, it’s still in production and only available for Beta testing. However, Berkun says that there’s been interest among packaging printers, converters and CPGs, and discussions are ongoing.

Labels That Talk