As we looked through the list of available IPs, we were inspired by the “Methods and Materials for Gas Sensors,” realizing that it could have multiple applications in areas where gas concentration was important. As we explored different possible problems, such as air quality and industrial emission, we were inspired by the broad space of food quality and storage. As we looked further into the problem space, we found that while there was a lot of research to optimize food production, there was a lack of development in food transportation, storage, and food spoilage prevention. We decided to look further into this problem and how we could use this IP and the “Shipping Container Security Device” to propose a possible solution to the transportation and storage of food that would avoid spoilage.
What it does
Our proposed product is focused on proposing an improved method to store and transport fresh produce to reduce food loss and plastic packaging. A current method of preserving foods during transportation is Modified Atmosphere Packaging Gases, also known as MAP gases. This system delays oxidation and growth of aerobic microorganisms by measuring the amount of oxygen in a package with an oxygen sensor and flushing air from food storage containers to replace them with known-gas mixtures. However, one of the most challenging aspects of MAP is the unique atmospheric requirements for the variety of products, as different produce requires distinct levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. An estimation of gas concentration changes is necessary before a successful MAP application can be designed.
Our product combines the “Methods and Materials for Gas Sensors” and “Container Security Device” to create the CAST device: the controlled atmospheric storage transportation device. This device is made up of a sensor suite with the container security device and MAP gas sensors, as well as a MAP gas regulator. The gas sensor would turn on regularly to ensure gas concentration for oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen is being monitored depending on the produce being shipped. This would potentially transform an entire storage unit as a local atmosphere, eliminating the need for individually packaged vegetables and other produce that does not necessarily have to be individually wrapped to ensure its quality. The container security device would also monitor if selected containers have been opened to alert the MAP gas sensor to turn on.
How we built it
As we researched more about food transportation and MAP gases, we were able to create a proposed design of our prototype with SolidWorks. We came up with our solution after learning more about the problem of food spoilage before it reaches customers and finding that much food was lost during transportation due to storage. While looking into current modern technologies, including freeze-drying, vacuum packing, and the addition of chemicals, we found that the storage of food in gasses was a solution that we could tackle and make better. We found that food safety monitoring is a vital component in the food industry, but improper monitoring and testing of fresh and packaged food could cause spoilage and illness. After learning that MAP food preservation techniques prolonged product shelf life, we looked more into the problems that still existed despite this solution, and decided to utilize the gas sensor and container security patents to come up with a better solution.
Challenges we ran into
We ran into challenges on creating this prototype while initially knowing little about the problem space. Before we could settle on this problem space, we had to check our existing assumptions and modify our idea when our assumptions were wrong. Although we knew that food spoilage was a large existing problem, we didn’t know where it happened in the stages of food production, nor did we know a lot about the actual process of food transportation and methods on how to keep food quality good. Our proposed solution took intensive research and required us to communicate on what we found.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We’re proud of coming up with a solution that could potentially benefit many different stages in the process of food production. While our product could be used in the transportation of food, it could also be used in areas where food needs to be stored but is also turned out due to limitations in cost and space. According to the US Department of Agriculture, one in nine Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. With our product, soup kitchens, food banks, and other food donations services could possibly store and distribute sizable amounts of perishable goods. We could potentially reduce food loss due to inadequate transportation conditions and a shortage of storage systems.
What we learned
We learned a lot about the process of food storage and transport and what leads to food spoilage. Some of us had not even heard of MAP gases and the other modern technologies currently used to stop the waste of food. After coming up with our proposed solution, we feel more comfortable in our knowledge about the importance of gases in ensuring the quality of food.
What's next for CAST
Next, we would build an implementation of our product with the IPs we planned to use, as well as other resources presented to us at Georgia Tech and beyond. We would look more into the market and talk about potential buyers who would use the product, such as those who work in food transportation, or those that need improved food storage. We would also talk to researchers and experts who know more about the storage of food in gases and how to further improve our proposed solution.