Meet Solveiga Pakstaite. This young inventor created the Bump Mark, a tactile food expiration label system for the blind.

Photo courtesy of Solveiga Pakstaite

Growing up, Solveiga Pakstaite, a 23-year-old inventor who recently won the UK James Dyson Award, never considered a career in industrial design an option.

“I was all set to go study psychology,” Pakstaite told Not Impossible Now in a Skype interview.

In fact, Pakstaite had already begun applying for university programs in psychology. Then, she took a class in industrial design at her high school. It was the first time that she realized she could use her passion to help people while creating user-centered designs. 

“I was interested in psychology because I was interested in people,” she said, “but I realized that I wanted to apply it more in terms of products.”

The Bump Mark, Pakstaite’s award-winning creation, has done just that. The tactile expiration label accurately detects when food has gone bad. Created as her final year project at Brunel University in London, Pakstaite’s invention has made quite a splash.

The design is ingeniously simple: Pakstaite explained that the small triangular label is built like “a sandwich,” combining a plastic textured surface on the bottom with solid-set gelatin and a thin film on top. Depending on its concentration, gelatin decays at the same rate as the food in the package. When it fully decays, signaling the inedibility of the food, it turns from a solid into a liquid. Any food shopper can run his or her finger over the label and, if able to feel bumps, will know instantly that the food is no longer good to eat.

Photo courtesy of Solveiga Pakstaite

Photo courtesy of Solveiga Pakstaite

 

Pakstaite first came up with the idea for the Bump Mark while working on a project for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, a British charity that helps the visually impaired. For six months, she worked on ideas to improve public transportation for the blind and spent much of her time talking with them about daily challenges they faced.

“One day I thought: ‘How on earth do they know when their food is going to expire because they can’t see the expiry labels?’” she said.

Pakstaite asked her friends at the association, and they told her that they rarely bought fresh food because it was such a daunting task.

So Pakstaite set about designing a product that would help the blind detect expiration dates and allow them to buy healthier foods. But she soon realized that “the rest of the sighted population is kind of blind to the real expiry of our food [as well]. It’s not just an issue that affects blind people. We are throwing away food that is perfectly fine and creating a lot of food waste.”

According to a United Nations report, one-third of the global food supply is wasted each year. A UK-based study estimates that 4.2 tons of food is thrown out each year in Great Britain. In the U.S., however, food waste is an even larger issue; Americans leave 40 percent of their food uneaten, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council report. Part of the reason for this food waste in the U.S. market is because the language used on food expiration labels can be confusing and, due to over caution, consumers often throw good food out.

Photo courtesy of Solveiga Pakstaite

Photo courtesy of Solveiga Pakstaite

Pakstaite said that the UK recently got rid of sell by dates on food labels in order to avoid confusion about when food has gone bad.

“But statistics have shown that this change hasn’t really improved the situation [of food waste],” Pakstaite said. “It is actually going to take a much more drastic change before people start assessing their behavior and improving it for the better.”

The Bump Mark, although initially designed for the visually impaired community, could make such an impact and help guide sighted consumers who throw out still edible food every day.

Pakstaite recently signed a contract with a UK supermarket and hopes that her labels will be rolled out soon. Even though Pakstaite must now turn her attention to the business side of creating a popular product, she is also focused on helping other young inventors get the attention they deserve for their life-improving products and hopes they will learn from some of the mistakes she has made.

Photo courtesy of Solveiga Pakstaite

Photo courtesy of Solveiga Pakstaite

On her Design by Sol blog, Pakstaite offers advice to young inventors who don’t know where to start, which she expanded on in our interview:

First, Pakstaite said, “Protect your idea if you need to. It doesn’t need to cost [a lot], which is a big misconception.” Pakstaite explained that she wrote up the patent application for the Bump Mark herself and only paid a lawyer for an hour of revisions.

Next, “Talk to as many people as you can in an environment where you’ll get an honest opinion.” Your friends and family might not offer you the most honest opinion about your invention, so try to search out an unbiased audience.

Finally, Pakstaite said, “Apply for competitions and see what feedback you can get from that.” A lot of young inventors place their product ideas online and sit back and wait to get discovered.

“That’s never going to happen,” Pakstaite said. “You need to actively apply for competitions. Look for calls to events for your field. Ask people: ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea. What do you think? Networking events are invaluable for this.”

Young inventors should heed her wise words. After all, as a young and successful inventor who has already made her “mark” on the world, Pakstaite would know.

Learn more about the Bump Mark at Solveiga Pakstaite’s website.

Top photo courtesy of Solveiga Pakstaite