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Food Waste Compost

Connected Composter to Power Homes: Thesis Concept Case Study

An ecosystem designed to support the disposal of organic waste using a connected compost bin, processing waste into energy, and providing electricity credits based on waste volume.

I worked independently with guidance from a graduate thesis advisor where I was responsible for concept development, research, system design, and UX design.

PROJECT LENGTH

3 months

DATE

Fall 2016

ROLE

Masters Graduate Thesis Student, Northeastern University

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

I wanted to explore: How can we get people to reduce food waste using technology?

With the ever mounting problem of food waste, I wanted to imagine a system that diverted organic waste from landfills and transformed it into a benefit for people.
 

  • I designed an ecosystem around technology to process waste into electricity that can be delivered to homes, defining the endpoints and flows of the system to address this issue. 

  • I researched this topic to learn what was possible, and to determine what components would be needed to support a system such as this.

  • I developed use scenario illustrations to show how this conceptual project would play out in the context of the real world.

PROCESS: CONTEXTUAL INQUIRIES

“Find the bright spots”

My initial research was focused on how to get people to care about disposing of their food waste responsibly.
 

Through contextual inquiries with local waste facilities, I discovered a process used by commercial facilities that processed organic waste and captured the gasses to be turned into electricity. This led me to think that if people could be incentivized with a lower electric bill for their food waste, they may be motivated enough to dispose of it responsibly.
 

This concept became the focus of my thesis, and I set out to build the pieces needed for this system to work.

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An illustration of the anaerobic digestion process of organic waste

PROCESS: SYSTEM DESIGN

Ecosystem map and information flow

I started by mapping out the complete system at a high level, defining the parts and how information would flow to each of them. Once I had all of the components and users in place, I could focus in on developing the concepts for each of them.

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An ecosystem map including all components and directional flow of information in the system

PROCESS: DEVICE DESIGN

Industrial design and device behavior

For this system to work, I needed to have a Smart Compost Bin that could track the waste it was capturing, and connect to the internet to transmit that information. By logging volume of waste collected over time, the system could determine the amount of electricity credits earned by the user.

Aside from typical features of a compost bin, I imagined this Smart Compost Bin could also determine organic from non-organic material to prevent users from throwing away the wrong type of waste which would disrupt the system.

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PROCESS: DEVICE DESIGN

Sensor and connectivity map

Since this Smart Compost Bin can connect to the internet, I also designed a map of the connectivity components and how the data would be transferred to the other parts of the system that would need to use it.

Illustration of how this device would connect to the internet and send information

PROCESS: MOBILE APP DESIGN

Companion app for mobile devices

To control the Smart Compost Bin and to view their own data, I designed a companion mobile app to pair with the Bin.
 

Key functions of this app includes: checking energy savings based on the amount of compost collected by the bin, a search function to check what can be composted, and requesting assistance.

Search compostable items flow

Request compost pickup flow

PROCESS: SCENARIO AND STORYBOARDS

Imagining this in real life

Even though this project was purely conceptual, I wanted to demonstrate how all of the components I designed worked together in this system.
 

I used storyboards to illustrate various user scenarios that someone would go through using this process.

RESULT

Key learnings

  • This project allowed me to pursue my passion for creating a positive impact while exploring my curiosity for designing systems for connected devices.
     

  • I learned the importance of understanding and designing a complete ecosystem before going deeper on specific components.

     

  • By designing a physical device alongside a mobile application, I better understand the need to keep the experiences consistent for a seamless experience moving between the two.

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