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UC Berkeley Team Builds 'Smart' Grocery Cart With Recycled Smartphones

A team of students from the University of California Berkeley created TouchCart, a "smart" grocery cart using recycled smart phones and, in the process, won the inaugural Smartphone Encore Challenge.

The challenge, conducted by Sprint, Brightstar and Hobi International, was intended to find ways to address the growing issue of electronic scrap by asking college students to come up with innovative solutions to the problem. The 25 teams involved — all members of Net Impact, a nonprofit organization that encourages students to use their business skills in support of social and environmental causes — were challenged to develop a product concept and business pitch, using refurbished smartphones and accessories.

The six-member UC Berkeley team, led by economics and computer science major Ken Chew, used recycled phones to build a device that could provide grocery customers with shopping lists, a store catalogue and item finder, a customer service phone line and scanning capabilities that would allow them to bypass check-out lines.

The winning team will receive $5,000 and strategic guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar and HOBI International about how to take their "smart" grocery cart to market as a new product.

Two runner-up teams were also selected.

A team from Ohio State University was recognized for converting old smartphones into onboard monitoring devices for vehicles that can be used to calculate automobile insurance premiums based on individual driving behaviors.

The second runner-up team, from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, turned old smartphones into affordable computers that could be used by school-age children who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

The winner and runners-up were judged by a panel that included executives from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, General Electric, Sprint and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

"We envisioned the contest as a way to address the growing environmental issue of electronic waste," said Sprint Senior Vice President for Corporate Relations Doug Michelman. "So, we were impressed with the caliber of entries and the innovative solutions these students put forth."

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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