“Meet the Food You Eat”
The rise of network and RFID technology and the emergence of products like CueCat and Mir:ror are pointing to a time when everyday objects will be connected to an untold amount of information. We are interested in how people can access this information, especially when connected to consumer products, to make informed decisions and help build a sustainable world.
Our project is a hypothetical grocery store shopping tool in the form of an educational science museum piece. It is a balance scale that allows people to measure the environmental impact behind common food items from the grocery store’s produce section. In the context of a grocery store, it will allow people to find products grown locally or organically or under fair business practices. In the science museum, it will allow people to explore these issues and discover that the ingredients in a simple salad are sometimes better travelled than most people they know.
Our scale is hands-on and educational and will have the most appeal to children. As an educational tool, the intention is not to provide answers about organic agriculture, carbon emissions or the global food economy. We want to raise questions and to let people look at the food they eat in a different way. We believe this is important information and remains hidden to most people, but hopefully for not much longer.
How it works
Our scale works like a traditional analytical balance that compares objects placed on one arm to weights placed on the other arm. Using RFID, the right side arm on our balance will recognize food products placed on it. The balance will download specific data related to that product (i.e. how many miles these bananas traveled from farm to store). This data will represent weight and the balance will adjust accordingly. To measure this data, the user will place objects that represent weights on the left side arm. A weight sensor on this arm will determine how many objects have been placed there and will adjust the balance accordingly. Once the arms are even, the user will know a relative value of that data.
The user can use the scale to weigh differenterent sets of data for one product (food miles, chemical fertilizers, etc…) and can use the scale to compare different products (different oranges, different fruits, etc…). The data sets will be predefined by us and will have to be mapped to the same values. For example, the values might be a scale of 1-10 that rates the environmental impact of a products food miles.
How we arrived here
Prototyping, user testing and the need to satisfy a particular brief have led us to where we currently are. We originally intended to create a product for the home but found little desire to see the environmental impact of a particular food after it has been purchased. On the other hand, a portable or in store device to compare different products based on these factors was desirable but needed to be compact, efficient and to the point. Through making quick and dirty prototypes we were able to get instantaneous feedback that provided meaningful results especially with understanding the mental model and metaphor of the “scale” Whilst user testing different conceptual elements of our experience, conversations led to a co-design approach were the people testing our ideas were inspired to suggest improvements that could be made.
screen shot of part of a system flow diagram