Students bring NASA into the kitchen

Students bring NASA into the kitchen

Summer intern Alex Lee and MIT undergraduate Marcel Sanchez collaborated on the AgeLab’s E-Home Project, which applies monitoring technology developed by MIT and NASA to the domestic kitchen as a means for caregivers and family members to observe abnormal behavior by older users.

The technology involves software developed by Oliver de Weck, Associate Director of the Engineering Systems Division at MIT. Its intended use was to manage items in outer space from Earth. The AgeLab hopes to apply the NASA technology to everyday living.

"Our vision is that the future of the home is more than a place to live," said AgeLab Director Joeseph Coughlin, "It will be a services hub enabling independence, connectivity, and care"

According to Lee, maintaining safety while ensuring this independence would be achieved by monitoring the individual’s activities and sending that data instantaneously back to caregivers via computers logged onto the RDF-based (Resource Description Framework) Asset Information and Location Software, or RAILS, web server.

Lee and Sanchez used a current monitoring device with a pre-installed socket to detect current usage within an accuracy of 0.01 amperes of any appliance connected to it. The device was then connected via USB to a computer which sends current data to the RAILS web server through Java programming. They were able to use data collected from a coffee maker to detect abnormal amounts of use.

One of the appliances is a "smart" trash can with three radio frequency identification (RFID) antennas attached. Kitchen items are given RFID tags so that they are read when the object is thrown in the trash. The  trash can itself is placed on a digital weight scale, which also sends data to the server via a USB connection to a PC. The combined data would be used to determine what the product is, how much of it was consumed and how old it was before it was thrown out.

The team would like to take the project further by involving motion sensors, video cameras and alarm systems that would inform caregivers if there is a major change in the weight of a trash can after an object is thrown out, or if an appliance has been left on for several hours.

Alex Lee received his BS in Biomedical Engineering in 2010 from the University of Rochester with a minor in Electrical & Computer Engineering. He will attend Duke University this fall to work on his Master's degree in Engineering Management.

Marcel Sanchez is a junior in mechanical engineering at M.I.T. with a concentration in control, instrumentation, and robotics. He is also minoring in economics. He will continue to work on the e-Home project during the fall semester.