It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an excited, participatory online community to raise a new milk jug.
A month ago, the crowdsourcing invention incubator Quirky teamed with GE Garages and asked the Quirky community to take an everyday, analog product — something most of us use every day — and suggest a way to make it smarter. The winning suggestion came from Stephanie Burns, an entrepreneur from San Diego, who wants a milk jug that tells her when the milk has gone bad. And she wants that to be based on science, not on the sell-by date printed on the carton, or by the “smell test.”
With that goal, the industrial designers at Quirky got to work, first by brainstorming with visitors to the Maker Faire in mid-May. “During Maker Faire we nailed down the concept,” Quirky designer Jess Fügler tells Smart Planet. “Then back in the office we developed the form. We wanted to make it reminiscent of old-school glass milk jugs.”
After toying with different formats, colors and 3D models, the MilkMaid went off to a model maker in Ohio and the end result is the MilkMaid prototype seen in the video below.
Normally, says Fügler, they’d create a foam model instead of a fully functional prototype, but with the Milkmaid it was important to prove the functionality. Here’s how it works: the user pours milk into the glass jug and places the jug on a base that contains a PH sensor, an LED display, scale, wireless transceiver and a rechargeable battery. When the sensor detects a PH level outside of the safe range, it triggers the LEDs to turn from green to yellow. The system is also paired with an iPhone which sends the user a text message when the PH level is off, or when the jug is running on empty and it’s time to buy more milk. The jug itself contains a temperature sensor that will alert the user if the milk has been left outside the fridge for long enough for bacteria to form.
I could see this making sense for someone who lives alone, travels a lot, and wants to know the status of his or her milk before getting back home. But generally, it strikes me as a lot of technology being thrown at a problem that only some people consider truly vexing.
On the other hand, some people (ahem, like my husband) can’t seem to smell spoiled milk when it’s sitting right under their noses. Also, dumping milk based only on the sell-by date rather than its actual rate of spoilage can be wasteful. (But perhaps not as wasteful as the extra water needed to clean the Milkmaid jug and the power needed to recharge its battery.)
So now what? Quirky will take the Milkmaid through its final steps, which include polling its users to find a reasonable price for the product and then possibly collecting quotes from contract manufacturers. Some day, your milk just may be able to talk to you.