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Technological Progress: Predicting Avocado Ripeness

Summary:
“Ripeness prediction is really difficult for avocados, and because they are so valuable, it is really a critical point for retailers,” said Juliet Nwagwu Ume-Ezeoke ’21, a mechanical engineering concentrator. “We hope this information would allow retailers to take very decisive actions.” For instance, retailers could advertise the ripeness states of avocados so consumers can make more informed produce purchasing decisions. Retailers could also set different prices for different levels of ripeness, or change store displays so the ripest avocados are at the front. The biggest challenge the students faced resulted from the University’s transition to remote instruction in mid-March — right in the middle of their project. After they left campus, the members of the sensor development team

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“Ripeness prediction is really difficult for avocados, and because they are so valuable, it is really a critical point for retailers,” said Juliet Nwagwu Ume-Ezeoke ’21, a mechanical engineering concentrator. “We hope this information would allow retailers to take very decisive actions.”

For instance, retailers could advertise the ripeness states of avocados so consumers can make more informed produce purchasing decisions. Retailers could also set different prices for different levels of ripeness, or change store displays so the ripest avocados are at the front.

The biggest challenge the students faced resulted from the University’s transition to remote instruction in mid-March — right in the middle of their project. After they left campus, the members of the sensor development team were forced to individually assemble sensors and then ship them to teammate John Schmidt ’21, a mechanical engineering concentrator, who faced the burden of assembling the device and testing 80 avocados on his own, said project co-lead Jonas LaPier ’21, an environmental engineering concentrator.

And a sudden sensor malfunction during testing threatened to derail the entire project, but the students were able to get a new part shipped the next day.

Despite those challenges, the students created an effective prototype — 60 percent of the estimates were accurate to within one day, with an additional 30 percent accurate within two days.

“The predictive model worked fairly well, which was great to see because we really weren’t sure with all of the moving parts in our project. The success of the modeling was contingent on our sensing approach and our avocado testing procedure which were both difficult to implement,” said LaPier. “I was consistently surprised by the hard work and exceptional skills that my fellow engineers brought to our team. There was never a point where we couldn’t count on someone to finish a task and move us all forward.”

Instructor Nabil Harfoush, visiting associate professor, was impressed by the determination the students showed to complete the project, even in the face of the unprecedented challenges they faced during the spring term.

“My hope is that students learned how to dwell more in the problem space before jumping to solutions, how to engage collectively with a complex problem, and what aspects and perspectives must be considered beyond technology in a real-world project,” he said.

Harjeet Bajaj, president and CEO of Savormetrics, was also impressed by the students’ work.

“Savormetrics will be polishing this off and bringing this product into market. I am very surprised at the efficacy of the students on our project,” he said. “Kudos to Dr. Harfoush and Dr. [Fawwaz] Habbal. We are planning on presenting a stock option opportunity to the students to bring this product to market, by providing them access to our office in Boston and other resources.”

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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