The question “what’s in your fridge” may seem like a simple one, but the answers are as varied as the people you ask.
“It’s pretty empty,” answered one student in the ASUCD Coffee House.
“Oh god, it’s embarrassing!” said another.
“I don’t even know,” said a third.
That third response brings up an interesting idea. What if there was an easy way we could keep track of what was in our fridge? That is exactly what a group of hackers at UC San Diego set out to do for the Yahoo! HackU competition. In this instance, ‘hack’ does not mean to break into an electronic system, but to hack something together.
The competition is a 24-hour race between teams to create a hack that will, according to the Yahoo! HackU webpage, revolutionize an industry or at least make the judges laugh.
The UCSD team hack consisted of modifying a refrigerator with pressure sensors and a tiny computer processor that wirelessly sends the pressure data to a web server. The team also created a website to visually represent the sensor data. When something is placed in the fridge, a question mark appears on the website and the user tells the program what is on that sensor.
The team also optimized the website for mobile devices, making it easy to keep track of your fridge contents on the go.
“Say you’re at the grocery store and you need to remember what you need to buy. It would be nice to have a way to know what’s in your fridge at all times,” said David Vanoni, team leader for the UCSD team, in a post-victory UCSD press release.
Davis students responded well to the idea of a fridge keeping track of their food.
“I want an app that tells me when my leftovers spoil. There are some funky smells in [my fridge],” said one Davis student.
Another Davis student wanted an app that kept track of their food’s expiration dates.
Although these are all potential ideas for the future, the UCSD team only had 24 hours to create their program, so they kept their program as simple as possible.
Future versions of their program may include weight sensors to automatically identify what is placed in the fridge, barcode scanners to retrieve nutritional information about the food and may even implement some of the ideas that the Davis students mentioned.
This “smart fridge” is the beginning of the futuristic smart-kitchen concept. In a smart-kitchen, appliances could communicate, create meals based on available ingredients and tailor meals to users’ dietary needs. The system could even keep track of your favorite foods and automatically order them when you are running low. And it could all be controlled from a smartphone or central console.
One of the more interesting features of the UCSD hack is a social network component called Fridge Connect that will allow you to “connect” with your friends’ fridges and generate recipes based on the combined ingredients. This takes the idea of borrowing a neighbor’s cup of sugar to the next level.
If the UCSD team did all this in just 24 hours, imagine what they could do with 48 hours, or a week or a year?
HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.