Building an IoT connected food storage for the homeless.

The problem

It is currently estimated that in the UK, pubs, take-aways, restaurants, and hotels throw away approximately 600,000 tonnes of food. It is estimated that in the UK 4.2 million tonnes of household food and drinks are thrown away annually. This translates to an approximate cost of £12.5 billion of edible food thrown away. While this does not directly translate to food that is safe to consume, a significant portion of that amount is still edible and untouched. This would not have been a problem on its own but - when you take into account that three million citizens are starving in the UK and that this costs £13 billion in medical expenses to treat malnutrition - this becomes a major problem. Hence, we decided to develop a solution that would mainly allow households and restaurants to donate with ease their food to assist in tackling this problem. We also noticed that approximately 70% of homeless people have a mobile phone; while we hoped that this percentage was higher, it certainly opens the doors for IoT-based solutions. At the same time, we expect this percentage to keep increasing by the year.

The solution

Introducing Coolbox! It is a stand-alone isolated box connected to the internet that keeps food stored in it fresh for 24 hours until it is discarded into a trash compartment. By using weight sensors and timers, the box knows whether it is empty or full and whether the content should be discarded. The box shares its location, status, and content with a real-time website and SMS query server so anyone who is hungry can find one quickly!


How it works

The Coolbox process is very simple: it starts with someone storing fresh and safe food in the box. The Coolbox then notifies the server that it is full and starts the timer - if no one picks it up within 24 hours, the content is discarded in the trash compartment. Anyone can now check the real-time website or send an SMS with their zip code to get location and timer information for all Coolboxes in his or her vicinity.

The Coolbox impact is three-fold:

  1. Provides a way for supermarkets, restaurants, and households to easily and inexpensively hand out their unsold items to those who need it.

  2. Tackles the high investment and personnel costs incurred by the food banks by providing a completely decentralized and autonomous system.

  3. Offers an easy way for those in need to find a meal that is free, fresh, and safe.

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How we built it

Coolbox has been selected as a finalist for the Cisco SwitchUp challenge and is still in development. Wanna help out? Chat with us: