The NYU Freedge is an initiative that aims to reduce food insecurity and food wastage on New York University’s campuses led by Simon Chen, Tandon ‘18; Emma Hoffman, Gallatin ‘18; Rodney Lobo, Tandon ‘17;  Vandit Maheshwari, Tandon; Michael Niamehr, Tandon ‘19 and Tuba Naziruddin, Tandon ‘18.

This human-centered design project of Design for America-NYU is a smart community refrigerator and social space where students, faculty and staff are invited to give and take food. The goal is to foster community engagement and trust and to create a movement around food sharing, reducing the environmental footprint from food wastage and provide food for those in need. The NYU FREEdge provides the community with an easy way to share, bond and grow together. With NYU’s high tuition and cost of living, there are many students who find it difficult to afford food. At the same time, the university is one of the wealthiest in the country, and through its various initiatives makes available enough food to feed all of its students. Yet so much of it goes to waste every single day. We are committed to redirecting this food, whether it be from individuals, events, clubs, etc. to  members of the community that may be struggling with food insecurity.

As one of the awards of Phase II of the NYU Prototyping Fund, NYU FREEdge is now entering a rapid prototyping stage, where we will consider and compare all of the prototype options that we’ve developed in the fall semester and have yet to test. We are grateful for the grant and invaluable coaching provided through by Blackstone LaunchPad at NYU, which helps us jumpstart our efforts to acheive our ultimate goal of expanding a successful prototype to NYU’s Washington Square campus.

Despite our efforts, however, a technological hurdle has halted our current prototype, using a touchscreen-enabled Raspberry Pi to conduct our “smart” user experience. We are unable to connect to NYU’s Wi-Fi network, rendering our data and live feed of the FREEdge purely local. As a result, we cannot currently provide live coverage of the FREEdge to Share Meals, as we had anticipated. Nevertheless, we are not deterred. Roadblocks allow us to take a step back and reassess previous problems and their solutions to improve upon the model in a way that resolves both current and previous issues; we WILL resolve the connectivity problem. We will retest our user interface with an iPad, which will allow us to bypass our current connection issues, as well as redesign the U.I. with a more streamlined experience.

The second Sandwich Packathon, hosted by Share Meals at Kimmel Center earlier this month, brought in over 50 surplus sandwiches, further emphasizing the need for the NYU FREEdge in advancing the impact of free-food and affordability initiatives. Therefore, we will move on to light prototyping and data collection with a simple sticky note and colour code system. In the meantime, we will investigate workarounds for the Wi-Fi issue and pursue organizational sponsorships for more cleaning supplies, food containers, and additional refrigerators. We also need YOUR feedback. Let us know what you think about the cleaning and packing supplies mounted on the FREEdge, or let us know any advice or ideas you might have; we would like to hear everything!

With new vigour and backing from the industry and academia our eyes are on the prize: A scalable working prototype. We have evolved and learnt from our journey together and have streamlined our operations and emerged into a self-managed team.  We are excited and charged about this learning journey we are on, with our second phase of prototyping. Hopefully you can see more of us and our freedges by the end of the semester.

And remember, if you have food to share, remember to FREEdge!