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E-CO Cup

A reusable cup that connects with smart home, car, and phone technology and has option for built-in wi-fi touchscreen.

Photo of Lesa R. Walker MD, MPH
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Idea Title

The E-CO Cup! A Revolutionary Cup for a New World!

Idea Summary

Revolutionary reusable cup design, mobilizing our tech-inspired global population to use resuable cups as much as they do cell phones, by connecting the cup with smart home, car, & phone technology.

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

"E-CO" - a consortium of companies (to be estab.)

Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)

The E-CO cup will adapt existing reusable cup designs and incorporate a technology-enabled feature.  The cup technology will sync with smart home, car, and phone technology, including voice-activated programming capability.  Syncing will allow the person to use smart home/car/phone tech to program the cup for reminders, etc. Also, the cup can be used to program the smart home/car technology.  The cup design will offer easy-to-program cup reminders for cleaning and use of the cup (similar to the reminder alarm clock system of "Reminder Rosie").  The cup, as an option, can incorporate in its design a wifi touchscreen on the cup surface (offering similar advantages to those of the "Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator", but, of course, on a much smaller and personal scale). 

One of the key issues in the use of reusable cups is that people forget to bring the cup with them when they leave their home/office, etc.  By enabling users to program into the cup visual or auditory or vibrating reminders that emanate from the cup itself, we hope to help people set-up reminders with the ultimate goal of establishing the habit of carrying their reusable cups with them.  Another issue with using a reusable cup is cleaning it.  Reminders can be set for cleaning also.  There are many potential uses and tech-advantages of the tech-enabled cup.  For example, it can be put by the bedside and replace a person's alarm clock; it can be put on a person's desk at work and be programmed with task reminders; it can be placed in the cup-holder in a car and provide easy-access and a stable platform for music, audiobooks, etc., either via the cup's internal tech features or by the phone having a surface where the user can attach a smart phone. 

Also, cups, as in any small mobile device, can be misplaced in the home, etc. The cup technology will enable cup location detection via hand-clap and/or smart home/car/phone command with the cup producing an auditory or visual signal response. 

Current, existing reusable cup designs (that already meet the Challenge cup criteria in terms of hot/cold beverage temperatures, food/beverage health safety, etc.) will be modified to create a flat side to the cup. This side will have the built-in tech-interface technology. It can also be used for the optional wifi touchscreen or can be used as a surface for attaching a smart phone or exercise/vital sign-monitoring (e.g. fitbit) device, etc.  The cup surface design will adequately insulate the tech components from the cup contents and maintain tech function despite internal hot/cold beverage temperatures and potential exposure to liquids (e.g. spilling of cup contents, cleaning, etc.). 

The cup will become key to the person's personal technology advantage and will help the customer with day-to-day activities as well as eco-friendly reminders.

To create the E-CO cup design prototype, I want to establish a consortium of companies ("E-CO") that will co-own and collaborate in design and production and marketing of the cup.  These companies will also work with retailers of to-go beverages to design and create drive-through mechanisms that allow drive-through customers to set the reusable cup on a stable counter at the drive-through window, and then allow baristas to pour prepared drinks into the reusable cups while meeting all public health food and drink safety standards.  The cup technology will be designed so the cup can be scanned quickly at retailers to tally use and allow retailers to provide awards based on frequency of use.

The cup will be marketed as a revolutionary reusable cup design.  As part of the marketing campaign, users will be invited to use their cup technology to share photographs, videos, and stories of their cup use and eco-journeys. These will be shared with the consortium of the E-CO Cup companies and will be loaded on a public online platform.  Some of these photos/videos/ stories will be selected for use in E-CO cup ad and marketing campaigns.  Cup users who share their stories will be honored as eco-champions.  There will be an E-CO Cup Champions award given to the cup users who have the most inspiring stories and who demonstrate that they are taking action to be strong environmental champions in their communities. 

When the cup is purchased, a percentage of the cost will be donated to an organization that helps promote environmental sustainability.  The organization selected to benefit from the cup purchase can be rotated every few months.  Organizations selected to benefit from the cup purchase will help promote/market the cup. 

I am an Organizer of the OpenIDEO Austin Chapter.  Our Chapter held 2 events, September 26 and October 3, 2018, to do preliminary research for the NextGen Cup Challenge, including a expert panel presentation on the cup ecosystem in Austin.  During the week between the 2 events, we had teams do field research at various locations in Austin to learn about the cup user experience and we created journey maps. I used the input received at these events and from the community research to inform my idea.

Here is the shareable link to the folder (view only) that contains our Chapter's Community Research Report (key documents, journey maps, and photos/video):

The research convinced me that a reusable cup (accompanied by extensive and persistent marketing strategies) is the way to proceed.  The disposal/recycling/composting of non-reusable to-go cups is highly complex and is fraught with user confusion and mistakes, leading to products still going into the landfills despite the best of efforts.  In order to mobilize acceptance and global use of the reusable cup, the cup design needs to be exciting and unique and incorporate a tech appeal similar to the cell phone.  People need ways to remind themselves to use the cup in order to ingrain the habit of bringing their cup with them.  Retailers and society as a whole need to provide incentives and recognitions for people who use the cup. 

The marketing strategy for the reusable E-CO cup will emphasize and prioritize cup recycling and will encourage the recycling of mobile devices in general.  Recycling avenues are outlined below in the sections "How is your concept recoverable?" and "How have you incorporated additional sustainability attributes (beyond recoverability) into your solution?"  The "E-CO" consortium companies will be prominent leaders and drivers of "zero waste" (offering a reusable/recyclable alternative to the fiber cup as well as a comprehensive and evolving cup design and recycling strategy to reduce e-waste for the cup as well as other mobile devices.). The environmental benefits of recycling the E-CO cup and other mobile devices (e.g. the cell phone) are identified in this article:  

The name "E-CO" evokes the eco-friendly reusable design. It also represents the revolutionary electronic/tech capability of the cup and the innovative organization of a consortium of companies to design, produce, and market the cup collaboratively.   Let the design of the cup symbolize and demonstrate that we are all in this together and we must co-create to address the environmental challenges of our time. 

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Reusable System
  • Alternative Delivery System

How is your concept recoverable?

The E-CO cup is reusable and recyclable. Reusable cups reduce the current to-go cup landfill burden. However, the cup must avoid contributing to the exponential surge of e-waste. The cup will adopt the recycling recommendations for cell phones and smart electronics. Such recycling will be an essential part of the marketing campaign. See the following links for marketable recycling options: 1) "10 Ways to Recycle Your Phone" (4/1/18); and 2) We will invite HYLA Mobile ( or other similar mobile device recycling company(ies) to join the "E-CO" consortium to maximize recycling options for the E-CO cup. E-CO cup retailers must also serve as mobile device recycling stations and offer recycling incentives, thus increasing access to and enhancing overall mobile device recycling.

How have you incorporated additional sustainability attributes (beyond recoverability) into your solution?

The "E-CO" consortium of companies will continuously explore and keep abreast of the latest scientific discoveries and advances on recycling mobile device materials, as evidenced in this article: We will partner with these scientists and offer the E-CO cup for research purposes in order to evolve the E-CO cup design and material composition to enable full recovery of materials with the goal of "zero waste".

What regions do you plan to address with your solution (and how will you accomplish this)?

Global marketing and distribution via the Challenge sponsors and the consortium of companies that contribute to the cup design and production.

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

The population to be served is the global population using "smart" tech devices. The marketing will emphasize the importance of reusable cups for the ecosystem, the easy-to-program cup cleaning and use reminder capability, the benefits of having the wifi touchscreen on the cup surface, the ability to attach a personal cell phone or exercise/vital sign monitoring device to the cup, the ability to sync up the cup tech with smart home and other "smart" tech (e.g. that found in one's car). The cup will become key to the person's personal technology advantage and will help the customer with day-to-day activities as well as eco-friendly reminders and will allow capture of eco champion stories!

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing

What are the biggest challenges you are facing today? What are existing gaps in your solution?

I need to build a consortium of individuals and companies with the technological expertise and experience to co-design the cup with me. For example I would like to find ways to collaborate with companies who have created products such as "Amazon Echo" and "Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator" and "Reminder Rosie" so that we don't reinvent the wheel and, instead, collaborate in a consortium to pool our ideas and technologies to create a revolutionary reusable cup that will truly impact the ecosystem globally. I would like to join with and partner with the "Smart Cup" idea proposed for this Challenge as well as others that wish to join in the consortium.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Business Model Development
  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Product / Industrial Design and Prototyping

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

I am a public health physician, passionate about the environment. I am also an activist, artist, poet, Kung Fu Master (5th degree black belt), & inventor with a prior patent. I am currently an Organizer in the OpenIDEO Austin Chapter.

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?


What is your legal / organizational structure? (if applicable)


Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

I would obtain the expertise and financial and marketing support to bring my idea for a reusable cup design to reality. I have the idea and need people with the technology, engineering, and marketing expertise to join with me to make the cup available and marketed globally. The cup tech design would be complex, but readily achievable for those who have the tech expertise. The marketing campaign would directly involve the Challenge sponsors and would be global and extensive.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email
  • Direct email invitation

Inspired by (1)

Smart Cup


Join the conversation:

Photo of Koldun Victor

An ordinary cardboard cup breaks down in the natural environment roughly in a year or thereabout. Approximately how the fallen leaves does, consisting of the same cellulose. In order for the new material for the production of cups to become a cost effective replacement of cardboard, it should decompose order faster, somewhere in a month, maybe two or three. This is at an average temperature of 15 degrees Celsius (according to NASA). But when we pour water near a boiling point, at a temperature of 95 degrees, into such cup , according to the rule of Svante August Arrhenius, all the chemical processes in it, including the self-decay of complex molecules, respectively, accelerate. The minimum acceleration will be somewhere 250 times, and the maximum will be about 65,000 times. That is, for a disposable cup that has been filled for at least an hour, and this is a real situation somewhere on a picnic, there is all the chances to pour out their content on the table at best , at worst, on himself or his electronic devices. Even if this cup was made a few days before that and was stored in a stock in perfect conditions.
Therefore, the question arises - how do you deal with such issue?

Photo of Lesa R. Walker MD, MPH

Hello Koldun Victor . Thank you for your comment, however, my idea does not propose a biodegradable/compostable cup model. Please see the details of my idea. The emphasis in my model is on cup re-use and recycling and incorporating technology-enabled features in the cup design that reinforce ongoing re-use of the cup .