As a large clock counted down from two minutes, the excitement of the crowd in the nearly packed Kresge Auditorium reached fever pitch. Students, faculty, and friends gathered to see the results of months of labor from the students of 2.009 (Product Engineering Processes), who were tasked with designing a food-themed product.
As in previous years, teams of students from the course had to build a working prototype and create a business plan for their product. Last night, representatives of the eight teams, each consisting of 15 to 20 students, presented and pitched their products to the captive audience. Live music was on hand to provide food-themed music and a backdrop to the often humorous interludes between presentations.
The teams interpreted this year’s theme of food in a number of ways, with some addressing farming issues and others looking to improve the operation of elite restaurants.
The Red Team addressed an issue especially salient in the developing world: the difficulty of transporting milk long distances. After trying to contact organizations in Africa and India, the team decided to focus their efforts on the South American nation of Guyana, which imports most of its milk from other countries. The Red Team’s device employed a bicycle-style pedaling system and a furnace to convert excess milk into powdered milk.
With the operator pedaling away on the machine, about two gallons of milk can be converted into a powdered form each hour. Presenters mentioned the Boston winter may have affected the evaporation rate around the machine, and so they needed to test their device in “more tropical environments,” similar to Guyana’s. With manufacturing costs close to $200 per unit and a retail price of only $40, the team would need to get financial assistance from non-governmental organizations in order to be successful.
When asked about the possibility of two farmers operating the machine simultaneously, the Red Team said one person could handle the job just fine. “Loading the wood might be the most strenuous thing you have to do,” one of the presenters said.
Next, it was the Silver Team’s turn. They took a less charitable approach but addressed a vital niche market: the sushi parlor.
Building on the success of conveyor belts at hip sushi joints, the Silver Team created the noribo, a saucer-like robot that carries dishes from the chef’s kitchen to the dining table. When customers find an attractive sampling of sushi, they simply grab the plate off the noribo, which runs on a track. Customers are charged for the number of empty plates at the end of the meal.
The Silver Team estimates a typical restaurant will need up to 100 of these devices. While the whole operation would cost about $20,000, they put that at half the price of a conveyor belt system. The team also highlighted the ease of use and maintenance, noting that if a single robot broke down, it could simply be taken out of rotation.
The Blue Team offered up another solution for farmers, creating a device that can wash up to three dozen eggs simultaneously. When the eggs are inside the device, a pair of brushes – not unlike those you might see at a fancy car wash – converge upon the eggs and wipe them clean. A separate compartment is used to dry the eggs, while another batch can be placed in the main compartment. Putting the cost of each unit at $100,000, the team hoped to make $240 in licensing fees off each item sold.
The Yellow Team rounded out the night with a small device, the True Tourné, that simplified tournéing, a technically difficult cutting technique. Popular in high-end French restaurants, one must be able to cut each potato piece into a seven-sided prism. With the backstory of a French cook who wanted to open a new restaurant in the United States, the Yellow Team demonstrated how their device made the process as easy as placing a piece of potato in a small vice then cranking a knob and making a cut seven times.
The team noted that among the few French restaurants they sampled in the Boston area, half of them avoided using the technique because it was too difficult. The market for the True Tourné, the Yellow Team said, is large, with nearly 23,000 restaurants in the twenty largest cities in the country.
“And that doesn’t even include other places that might serve French food – like France,” said team member Jamie K. Curran ’11.
The remaining four projects of the night were a flour dispenser, a wheelchair basket, a spice dispenser, and a water bottle washer.
The night ended on a high note, as the audience congratulated the teams for their hard work, and the presenters thanked Professor David R. Wallace PhD ’95 for his guidance this term. Presenting Wallace a token of gratitude, Eliza J. Eddison ’11 said more than half of the course’s students — many seniors — said this was the best course they had ever taken.