In the final exhibition, the motor in this thing got so hot it started melting the acrylic and in the end we had to shut it off. But yesterday we got it working again so we could put together this video. It’s a noisy prototype, but you would be surprised how much power was required to lift that package of potatoes.
During our project Meet the Food You Eat, we often debated on whether the scale was the right metaphor for measuring the environmental impact of food. The first prototype we presented to the class resembled the traditional balance like the one pictured above. This caused a lot of confusion with our classmates because in their mind, this was not a tool for analytical measurement but a symbol of balance (good vs. evil, the scales of justice, etc…). This is why our final prototype did not use the form of a hanging balance, but instead a beam balance typically found in science classrooms, kitchens, etc…
Anyway, it is good to see this metaphor being used other places. The image above was from a French newspaper article about carbon emission and orange juice. Thanks for the link Yasmine!
Faced with time constraints on the last day of TUI, we were never able to show this presentation that we prepared. Eilidh, Sid and I were interested in trying something other than the typical PowerPoint/Keynote slide show. We found a pretty interesting web based application called Prezi which is a platform for creating nonlinear, fluid, map like presentations with images, videos, etc…
Our project is a scale that measures a food product’s environmental impact. It looks at the carbon emitted as a result of transporting the food and measures this in terms of how many trees would be required to offset that carbon over one year.
Who is it for?
The scale is an exhibition piece intended to make the general public think about the environmental implications of the food they purchase.
Guests at the final exhibition were able to use the scale and compare different food products.
Why is it valuable?
This scale is an exploration in how tangible interfaces can be used to interact with data on the web. With the increase in usage of RFID technology and as “everday” objects become networked, we anticipate access to untold amounts of information for things as simple as an apple. With appropriate ways to interact with this data, we hope people will be able to make more informed decisions that will help build a sustainable world.
As an exhibition piece, this scale will raise questions about the food you buy, where it comes from and how it is transported. With a subject as complex as carbon emissions and the global food economy, our scale is only an entry point and is intended to raise more questions than it will answer.
This scale can also be viewed as a hypothetical kitchen appliance or point to a future grocery store service. The data it uses is important but remains hidden to most people, and we hope this will not be the case for much longer.
A scale that measures the weight of food in terms of it's environmental impact
How does it work?
The scale works by looking at the carbon emitted by transporting a particular product from it’s country of origin to Denmark. Place an RFID tagged product on the appropriate arm and try to balance the scale with the tree shaped weights. The amount of trees used to balance the scale represents the number of actual trees it would take to offset that product’s carbon emissions over one year. Swap items on the scale and compare different items from a particular country or similar items from different countries.
Place RFID tagged food here
What were your key learnings?
Our team experienced many challenges in assembling the scale and in gathering the data behind the products, but most of our key learnings came in the beginning of the project. Rapid prototyping and user testing were essential for our team. We learned that building rudimentary models is the best way to test rudimentary ideas. Some models told us when an idea was going in the wrong direction while other models told us this only when in the hands of people outside our team. From the beginning, our project was heavy with metaphors - a scale and weights to measure data, and trees to represent this data. User testing was the only way to know if these metaphors were the right choice.
Place trees here - These trees, made of glass and acrylic, functions as weights