Smart Tupperware aims to extend food life


If undergraduate research assistant Sangjun Eom succeeds, then lights, thermostats, doorbells, garage door openers, and leftover lasagna will all be connected to the Internet of Things in smart homes of the near future.

Although network-connected lighting, heating and cooling controls, door locks, and security systems are already being sold to consumers, Eom learned about the possibility of creating wirelessly connected food storage products when he attended Purdue’s Research Roundtable as a new student in fall 2015.

“I want to go to graduate school, and having experience with research would help,” said Eom, a senior in Purdue Polytechnic’s School of Engineering Technology. “At the roundtable, I met Prof. Richard Voyles and learned about several things that he was working on, including the Smart Tupperware project. It caught my interest.”

Voyles, professor of robotics engineering technology and head of the Collaborative Robotics Lab, was already working with the Tupperware Brands Corporation to design a product which can monitor the food it’s storing, report on its inventory levels, and change environmental conditions as needed to preserve it longer.

“If the humidity or temperature need to be adjusted, Smart Tupperware will be able to send a message to your smart thermostat or smart refrigerator,” Eom said. Eom and the student research team designed custom electronics for a Tupperware container and are currently working to create a prototype in which flexible displays are wrapped around the container’s curved sides.

“We have to implement sensors and wireless communication, and we have to consider whether the container could be microwavable,” said Eom.

The Smart Tupperware team plans to embed the electronics in a layer of plastic.

“We want it to be water resistant, so putting the controller and displays inside the plastic would prevent exposure,” he said. “We hope Tupperware will eventually bring this to market and manufacture it in sufficient quantities to keep costs down.”

Eom was born and lived in South Korea until middle school. At a summer camp, he learned about Arduino microcontrollers, inexpensive kits for building digital devices which can sense and/or control real-world objects. The experience helped build Eom’s interest in learning how to integrate electronic products into our daily lives. An academic advisor suggested he consider applying to Purdue Polytechnic.

“I discovered that students here get to do a lot of hands-on projects while learning about theory, and I thought it would be an innovative college to be in,” Eom said.

Eom is also earning a minor in electronic and time-based art in the College of Liberal Arts and hopes to pursue a master’s degree in engineering technology in Purdue Polytechnic.

“I want to pick a thesis topic which is interdisciplinary, which integrates technology and art,” Eom said. “This Tupperware project got me interested in the current trend of building smart products. I hope to work for a company which makes innovative products that people haven’t thought of before.”