Hacking Automated Hand Sanitizers With Ben Heck


If you have visited a hospital any time recently, you probably noticed quite a few automated hand sanitizer dispensers scattered throughout the hallways and in each patient’s room. Since hospital-acquired infections are a growing problem, there has been a push for all personnel to use these hand sanitizers regularly to lessen the likelihood of spreading disease.

In the most recent episode of his web show, [Ben Heck] took on the challenge of hacking one of these dispensers to use motion sensors in order to sense when hospital personnel are near, as well as to remind them that they should sanitize their hands on the way out.

He disassembled the dispenser to see how it operated, then worked on replacing the IR sensor pair with a set of motion detectors. He hooked the motion sensors to a Propeller board, which uses a separate add-on board for keeping time. Once the motion sensors are triggered, the passer-by is given a window of time before the machine notifies them to kindly sanitize their hands. All movements and sanitizer dispensing events are logged to an SD card connected to the controller, which can be reviewed to ensure policy compliance.

If you have about 20 minutes to spare it’s worth checking out, and if you are interested in more hand washing tech, check out this DIY hand dryer we featured a while back.

9 thoughts on “Hacking Automated Hand Sanitizers With Ben Heck

  1. @Nick
    He has used the propeller on more than one episode. The one I remember on the top of my head was when he used a micro to control pinball machine components. He was using the SPIN language on his PC

  2. I happen to work in the medical industry on the equipement (bedside monitors, infusion pumps, defibrillators, etc) and while I have to admit I like this hack from the point of reminding everyone to sanitize, I guarantee this is the perfect way to really tick off all the nurses. Only from the point that they’ll argue that they have enough that they have to do and keep track of. That, and they WILL find new and interesting ways to break it….(Speaking from 15 years of dealing with nurses from the equipment side)

    Doesn’t change the fact that this is a great idea though.

  3. I agree with Biomed Bob, it’s going to piss off the nurses. Especially if the results are pulled from the device and they face criticism for when its not used.

    A much easier way (without the logging) would be to buy a door chime (similar to the beep when you enter a shop) and replace the speaker with an LED)

  4. Many larger hospitals are already tracking nurses and equipment, and adding the hand sanitizers on top of that tracking only makes sense. In some places nurses only wash about 8% of the time they enter or exit a room! Systems like this will be great for helping to point out how few ppl are actually clean enough to interact with patients.

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