With Hong Kong's available land becoming increasingly scarce and the population climbing steadily, waste management has become a major priority for both the government and the citizens. Before waste reaches landfills or incinerators, an integral part of the process is the public trash can. However, the current weekly trash collection system may at times be wasteful, since some trash cans may not be full. Thus, we decided to create an application that would display the full trash cans and their locations, thus saving valuable time and resources.

What it does

Public trash can and recycling bins are equipped with sensors that are able to detect when the trash can has been filled, each of which is monitored by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. When a certain number of trash cans in a particular district has been filled, the service will identify both the closest collection point and the best route through, thus streamlining the collection process, drastically reducing time, resources, and environmental impact. Over time, the application accumulates a record of each trash can's usage, ultimately providing a comprehensive picture of human activity and therefore littering. This information would be highly useful to governmental departments, allowing more targeted waste reduction or recycling promotion programs, or more effective resource allocation and city planning.

How we built it

We built a prototype IoT device using a light-dependent resistor connected to the TI-CC3200 Launchpad, which, depending on the read voltage level, would send either 0 or 1 to the M2X API. If a value of 1 was sent (meaning the trash can would be filled up), a trigger would be posted to a Python based server (Flask), where the statuses of the different trash cans would be stored in a database. The locations of the filled up trash-cans would then be displayed on a map generated with the Google Maps JavaScript API, along with directions from the nearest trash collection centre to all of the filled trash cans within the same district.

Challenges we ran into

A challenge we encountered immediately was the brainstorm for the fundamental idea. The concept of IoT was relatively new to us, so we were largely incapable of understanding the scope of what was possible with the technology we had access to. Many of the ideas that were brought up we either found unsatisfactory or we would discover that a similar product had already been produced.

As programmers who are relatively new to networking, we also had some difficulty creating a server to host the application on. The Google Maps JavaScript API also proved a challenge to work with, as the instructions given on the official website were terrible.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Our most significant accomplishment was reaching our goals and completing our project. Many of the skills and technologies required were ones we had not had much experience with, so it was a happy surprise, after an intensive process, to even reach the end of the project.

What we learned

There were three main things we had been able to take from working on this project. On a technical level, we were able to practice and refine our skills in computer technology, especially when encountering unfamiliar hardware and software. On an interpersonal level, collaboration was an essential skill throughout the experience, as each of us had particular ideas and abilities to contribute, and we needed to work as a team to create the best product possible. Finally, an unexpectedly significant result was an increased awareness and appreciation of the importance and ubiquity of IoT in our lives.

What's next for sCan

The context of the application has been initially set as city-wide; however, the app could also be applied to smaller scale scenarios such as trash-cans in a particular building, in order to further reduce resource expenditure in the process of waste collection.

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