Dubai: Two students in Dubai have come up with a project that helps ensure the safety and quality of food donated to community fridges using automatic sensors.
Aptly titled ‘Generous DXB Smart Refrigerator,’ the award-winning prototype is an example of how different segments of the community can support the UAE’s National Food Loss and Waste Initiative, Ne’ma, that aims to halve food waste and loss in the country by 2030, or even earlier.
Shahad Elshehaby, 19, an electrical engineering student at the College of Engineering and Ali Burman, 20, an Information Systems Security student at the College of IT at University of Dubai (UoD) invented the prototype under the supervision of Soheila Ali, 35, a PhD candidate at the university and senior corporate excellence programme specialist at Excellence and Knowledge Department of Dubai Municipality.
The students created the project as an entry to Software AG’s Future Disruptors Programme 2022 UAE chapter and won the first place amid stiff competition from several other UAE universities. They are now in the process of registering Intellectual Property rights of their project and preparing to launch Generous DXB through sponsorships.
Inspired by challenges
Speaking to Gulf News about the project, the students said the challenges of food waste in the UAE and world hunger were the main inspiration behind the idea.
According to the latest statistics released by the Ministry for Climate Change and Environment in June, Dh6 billion worth of food is wasted in the UAE every year, and ends up in landfills. Earlier estimates had stated that food waste costs Dh13 billion dirhams annually in the UAE. Worldwide, 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted per year, affecting the 1 billion people who suffer from hunger. Moreover, 600 million people get food poisoning after eating contaminated food, and 420,000 people die annually due to foodborne diseases.
The UoD team said they tackled three Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are “zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and responsible consumption and production”, to rectify the existing challenge.
“Here in the UAE, the solution exists, as there are a lot of initiatives to support people who are lesser privileged to afford their meals by allocating community fridges in specific zones,” said Elshehaby.
“However, we felt that the existing solution needed advanced levels of safety and hygiene and therefore, we came up with our innovative solution to rectify the problems in the existing solution through the use of IoT,” said Burman.
Dr Eesa M. Bastaki, president of UoD, said: “With Dubai at the helm of innovation, our aim was not to create a project afresh, but support one of the city’s current initiatives of the many and further aid in driving its sustainable goals through our innovation. Generous DXB is a project that can be seamlessly embedded into Dubai’s community refrigerators scheme.”
Soheila Ali pointed out that the prototype can be used in any type of fridges to ensure safety of food stored.
The students said the name of their solution was inspired by the generosity of the emirate of Dubai to support people who are less privileged to afford their meals through this hygienic smart fridge. The concept of community fridges under the UAE Food Bank was first launched in Dubai as Ramadan Fridges. Eventually, the concept was adopted beyond Ramadan and some residential communities had also launched similar initiatives to support the needy with surplus food.
Road to development
University of Dubai registered their innovative idea as a use-case proposal to Software AG, competing with 10 teams from eight participating universities.
“Soon after, we were announced as one of the top three finalists by Software AG. We received project funding from Software AG to build our prototype use-case for the period of three months during which UoD team were trained by experts from Software AG on cutting edge technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, analytics, dash boarding, communication and presentation skills so that the team was ready to showcase the idea to the public at GITEX Global 2022 from October 10-14,” said Elshehaby.
With a funding of Dh6,000 from Software AG, the team built the prototype using the Cumulocity IoT platform powered by Software AG to analyse the data received from the sensors. “Using this platform, we were able to create different dashboards that showcased the data and the analysis of every single variable. It also helped us create an application that connects the dashboards together,” explained Burman.
How it works
In the prototype, the students said, nine different sensors were used to measure the quality of solid food items. “We used seven gas sensors along with temperature and humidity sensors,” said Elshehaby.
“The mechanism of these sensors is based on passing the values or the data of the food item to Cumulocity, where all of the measurements are analysed to determine the quality and safety of the food using a threshold value for each sensor that indicates the safe zone of the food item,” added Burman.
The young innovators said they were preparing for the next phase to bring the project alive through sponsorship. They are also hopeful about working with entities like Emirates Red Crescent and Dubai Municipality to support their goals.
Rami Kichli, senior vice president, Middle East and Turkey, Software AG, said students participating in the competition were recommended to use one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by UNDP as their guiding star to create prototypes.
“Participants were required to present real-world contexts through IoT, AI and machine learning based innovative models. The prototypes were assessed and judged by an independent jury comprising of esteemed industry and business leaders. The shortlists and winners are determined based on a point-based system and incorporate innovation, transformation, evolution and simplicity as some of its parameters,” Kichli.
While the three finalists had the chance to showcase their solutions at the GITEX Global 2022, the winning team gets a chance to intern at a Software AG office in the Middle East or European region for a six-month period after potential employment opportunities were considered for some.
He said 15 students in the UAE and Saudi Arabia have so far won the programme since its launch in 2020.
“From the winning teams, an intern was hired at the company’s Dubai office and three others have recently completed a three-month internship in Germany and are now completing their internship in Riyadh. One of our winners, who in fact started internship this summer, also supported in building our GITEX Global 2022 IoT showcase at the Software AG booth.
“Several of our other winners and graduates have joined our partner and customer community. For example, our year one winner is now working in IoT R&D at Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA). Overall, it has been an enriching experience for these students to be able to garner hands on experiences in the corporate world,” Kichli added.