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June 4, 2013
News - According to Pete - Spect…
about 9 years ago
What about using the flexibility of the circuit board to make a sort of dead-simple age tracker for foodstuffs? Using the small and cheap 2-3 digit black and white numerical display (think old calculator display), lithium coin-cell battery, and Atmega chip, Sparkfun could make a device that displays the number of days since a foodstuff has been bought and opened. Consuming very little power and built upon a flexible substrate, this device could be easily puttied or"stickered" onto a carton, can, or oddly-shaped container and could tell the user at a glance just how safe the food is to eat. Using this device, keeping track of perishable items would be much easier and safer for everyone involved, especially if used in a communal setting.
In a setting where communal refrigerators and pantries are the norm (such as within college dormitories and small startup companies), making the current age of a particular food item easily identifiable at a glance would drastically reduce rates of accidental and preventable food poisoning due to expired food, and would also make refrigerator maintenance easier and less gross for the parties involved. As an example of just how dangerous not identifying foodstuffs ages can be, I want to draw your attention to a story I heard first hand while visiting MIT.
Back in October of 1994, in MIT's "Random Hall" dormitory, one student had bought a carton of milk for the dorm's communal fridge. For whatever reason, this milk was never finished, had no clearly marked date, and was shoved to the back of the 'fridge and forgotten -- for more than a year. Next year, someone found the milk, checked the sell-by date (which only marked the month and day), saw that the sell-by date seemed alright, and almost took a drink from it. Thankfully, as the kid poured a glass, he could see that it had obviously spoiled and did not take a drink. Needless to say, that college kid came /incredibly/ close to getting some horrendously severe food poisoning. -- All of which could have been prevented had there been some sort of Sparkfun manufactured electronic "sticker" that displayed the number of days since that carton of milk was first bought.
Although monitoring foodstuffs could be one use for such a cheap, flexible two-segment display device, other uses could be found as well. By releasing the source code, the device could be hacked into a wristwatch with a smaller than usual display, a stopwatch, or general purpose computerized identification sticker.
PS: That milk is still there! At over 18 years old, the carton has dissolved, but has been placed inside of a specially designed quarantine container in a special fridge over at Random Hall. It's actually quite gross when you see it in person...
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