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SpiceMate: An Automated, Contact-less Spice Dispenser

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We have all experienced at least once in our lives the frustration of trying to prepare a meal and having to constantly wash our hands to avoid contamination or the frustration of accidentally dropping too much of one spice in our plate throwing the whole dish out of balance... Well, you can say goodbye to tedious handwashing and accidental spillage and say hello to seamless, hands-free spice dispensing with SpiceMate! 

Overview 

Our device aims to create a contactless experience, ensuring your spices remain pure and uncontaminated as well as ensuring balanced spice mixes. We also hope that this device could also open a world of independent cooking for people with lower hand dexterity who would otherwise find it very difficult to simultaneously balance the many demands of the kitchen. 

The hands-free operation of the system is intended to reduce spice wastage due to spillage or contamination. The reduced need for frequent handwashing over prolonged and widespread use could also lead to significantly reduced overall water consumption. Furthermore, the refillable design of spice containers could further promote responsible consumption practises by encouraging the purchase of bulk spices instead of disposable plastic or glass spice packages. 

Objectives 

The project’s aim will be realised through the following objectives: 

  • Design and Prototyping: 3D modelling and printing will be utilised to create an aesthetically appealing and physically functional casing to enclose all the electronic and mechanical components required. 
  • Software Development: The device will feature real-time activation/deactivation mechanisms and contactless operation which will require the development of an extensive real-time embedded system of various sensors and actuators. 
  • Minimise Power Consumption: Additionally, the platform will be designed to minimise power consumption using a combination of low-power sensors for on-demand activation and deactivation. The real-time operational software will maximise sleep time of the microcontroller to further reduce power consumption. 

Methodology 

The project is currently in development with the initial conceptual design for a device that dispenses a single pre-ground spice being close to being realised. Furthermore, the bill of materials for the project is currently being finalised and a software outline is being developed. Once these tasks are completed then we will proceed to the mechanical and electrical prototyping of the dispensing mechanism, sensors and actuators to create a functional product. This will be followed by testing and optimisation of the software (i.e. to prevent accidental activation and spice wastage) and finally the incorporation of additional features such as compatibility for multiple spices, grinding mechanism for whole spices and voice activation/deactivation. 

Concept design for Spicemate

Materials and Components 

Core components include gears, bearings, transparent 3D printer filament (spice containers), servo and/or stepper motors, linear solenoids, proximity sensors, and limit switches, all of which would be needed to produce the initial prototype for the single-spice dispenser. Supplementary components such as an optical rotary encoder (to determine position of spice jars on rotational holster), electromagnets (for container lids to prevent accidental spills), and a voice recognition module (for voice activation) would be needed for the implementation of the additional features. 

Conclusions and Future Outlook 

This project fits into the concept of smart homes and automation, and as engineering students, we are keen to contribute to this emerging field. Wider applications of the platform developed during this project could include accurate dispensing of medicines and other vibration-based real-time sorting systems. 

You can follow our team’s progress here and on our social media channels! 

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SPICEMATE is one of the Winners of this year's Student Project Fund sponsored by RS Grass Roots

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