Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Smart Medication Dispenser

The biggest problems with pharmaceuticals isn’t patents, industry reps, or the fact that advertisement to consumers is allowed; this only happens in the United States. No, the biggest problem with pills and medications is compliance, or making sure the people who are prescribed medication take their medication. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Joe] is working on a solution. It’s a smart desktop medicine organizer, and you can think of it as a pill box with smarts.

The list of features of [Joe]’s organizer include automatic pill organization – each prescription is accessed independently of all the others. When it’s time to take a pill, the smart medication dispenser plops out a pill. You can check out the demo video [Joe] put together using M&M candies.

There are a few more features for the Smart Desktop Medicine Organizer, including connecting to pharmacy APIs to order refills, checking for drug interactions, and setting timers (or not) for different medications; meds that should be taken every day will be dispensed every day, but drugs taken as needed up to a maximum limit will be dispensed as needed.

It’s a very cool project, and you can check out [Joe]’s video for the project below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

31 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Smart Medication Dispenser

  1. May I suggest The Pill Popper for a name. Often thought of just for vitamins and herbs.
    If not for convenience this in needed when forgetfulness strikes or with the infirm. There is a harder need yet. We in a heroin epidemic caused by scrip painkillers. There is a black market created by those who are not monitored to take and not sell. If this is tackled=much help.

    1. I think you are misinformed. Heroin is a street drug, not a prescribed medication (there is a legitimate medical equivalent, but it is not called heroin). It is statements like this that cause a panic among the general populace, making it extremely difficult for the 90% of people who are legitimately prescribed pain medication and NEVER abuse it (yes, it really is true that 90% of people that are prescribed pain meds never abuse them in any way, according to my local pain clinic RN) to obtain these vital medications for legitimate use. Talk about the one bad apple that spoils the whole bunch. In this case, 1 person in 10 abuses pain medication, so the other 9 of us have to suffer because no one will prescribe or dispense the medications we need.

      Please, everyone, stop lumping people who legitimately and properly use pain control medications with people who abuse street drugs or drugs of any kind. It is wrong, it is unkind, and it is damaging to those of us that need these medications in order to be functional in any way.

      1. I don’t envy doctors in having to make difficult decisions about issuing medications with abuse potential, though some seem to manage it quite well. Regardless, empirical evidence from street level is telling, and that does cast an unjust shadow on those who legitimately have no other recourse.

      2. The stats.
        80 percent of heroin users start on scrip (black market) meds. These meds are the prime driver of non herbal recreational drug use. Short of nurse or video administering, something needs to be done to account for all of these pills of that 10 percent.
        Nobody really wants to go and get some heroin and get started on it. But prescription drugs seem legit, they are advertised on all media. They are the gateway to hard street drugs just as much as a joint if not more. Their street value creates many more problems even to a patient trading pain for food on the table. I have seen it live.

        The point is there is a urgent need for hacks to enable the safe and responsible vending of prescription meds to all who need them and only them.

          1. Wow, so much terrible misinformation.

            But hey, what would I know? I’ve only lived in constant pain for over a decade. How could I possibly know more about the subject than someone who spent 5 minutes looking at a Wikipedia article?

      3. Pseudoephedrine is manufactured in multiples of the expected need for medication; Where does the excess go? Methamphetamine production. I suspect the same is true of opiod drugs as well. Even Rush Limbaugh was caught buying for his addiction, in excess of his need for pain control. Since few people are willing to grab a needle and inject first time out, the presence of illegally used prescription drugs make for a good way to hook users into using street crap.

        Sorry you suffer. However I see no one here claiming they want to pull your pills away. YOU are the only one doing any lumping.

        Are you old enough to remember when Methadone was developed and used to ‘cure’ heroin addiction only to result in Methadone addiction? Not everyone needs Wikipedia to know the public course of drug addiction over the last 50 years.

        1. “YOU are the only one doing any lumping.”
          Not even close to true. The media ignores the 90% of us who behave ourselves with our medications because we don’t make an interesting (money making) story. One famous guy with a drug problem = news that sells. It’s far from an indication of the truth.
          It’s the media that created the hype and paranoia about prescription opiates that now makes it next to impossible for me and many millions like me to get appropriate treatment. You have no idea what people like me have to go through because of the ignorance of the general populace. The people who abuse medications would abuse something else if they didn’t have access to the meds, whether that was alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, pot, or some other drug or combination of drugs.

          But again, what would I know.

          By the way, Methadone was not developed to combat heroin addiction. It’s been around since at least 1937. Perhaps you should check your sources again.

  2. A definite need in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. Way too many people find out that the inevitably slip into Adderall binge-dosing, leads to irreversible cognitive impairment and a lifetime of untreatable dyskinesia.

  3. I really like the project as I would find a need for the end product. A feature to add to the system is a sms or wifi feature that would allow people that are concerned for the individual to check if they have taking there pills. Another feature would be a “panic button” on the pill dispenser that would alert the care giver in case the machine has dispensed the wrong pills.

  4. There is also a company called EPIL which sells similar system. It uses rotating wheel and cells for like 350 dollars, example is here. I must say the rotating wheel seems better as it is also portable.I still like your hack it’s great. Have you thought of adding a wristband with a vibration sensor to alert the patient?

    1. Thanks for the comment [Epill]. There are several products like the Epill. I am trying to differentiate this product by making it smart and easy to use. You have to load the Epill manually and all it does is tell you when to take a group meds from a simple timer. My machine can store individual pills and dispense them pill by pill with many schedules. Another thing I am working in is to load the pills automatically. Just dump the pills in the machine it it will sort them for you so you don’t have to worry about adding them to compartments manually which leads to errors.

      I think the writs band is a good idea and I will look into making it an accessory.

  5. Nice design but a bit large and hard to load. I would rather add whole pill bottles at the time and dispensing one at the time. This is harder because there are many different sizes. In this design there is no way to check if there is a pill in the compartment, its easy to make mistakes.

    Another interesting aproch would be to add the skittles sorter, given you need 2 blue and one yellow pill for example.

    1. Thanks for the comment [jwrm22]. I agree that loading needs to be much improved. I have a video on the project website talking about my progress on this. I hope to have an initial prototype soon. I think I am getting close to getting this critical component working.

  6. “No, the biggest problem with pills and medications is compliance…” No, the biggest problems are: 1) Fakes – I live in a country where I cannot trust the medications purchased, too many fakes from China (mainly), & 2) Abuse in animal farming.

      1. Perhaps the display could have a separate button which would show the last dispensed item with time, so forgetful people or caretakers/family or even emergency responders would be able to quickly see. Like the last dialed function on phones.

  7. A few thoughts – (haven’t looked at the video yet).

    How do you clean it? (Looking at some of the grubby old pill boxes around here, ease of cleaning would be nice).

    Having pill containers not be white is/would be good. (Seems like most pills are white or light colored, makes it hard to see if a pill sticks in the box.)

    Reminder app could show a picture of the pill to be taken (an additional check so don’t get the wrong one).
    Of course that would be a bit of a problem since sometimes pharmacies change which pill they provide.

    Would be nice if loader had some verification ability (if it knows how much the pills should weigh, it could notice when you put in the wrong pill, or when
    get a missformed/broken pill (too small). Or when you did a really bad job of splitting a pill (or forgot to split a pill).) Machine visual checking might also be nice, though probably harder to build.

    How does the whole business handle power outage or internet outage. (Should make it easy to enter pills that took while the system was down.)

    1. Thanks for the comments.

      1) This version cannot be easily cleaned. However, the machine does try to put the same (or similar) medications into slots they have been used in before to avoid contamination (penicillin allergies being of utmost concern). I am drawing up plans for a new version where I am planing to have removable trays than can be cleaned (this is shown in my most recent video).

      2) Pictures of pills is tricky as you mention. However, pharmacies usually have a description of the shape such as “While oblong with the letters PE on one side” This text could easily be displayed if we can get access to this information. We could even get clever and draw an image based on the description. Pharmacies like CVS give you this information from an API when you scan the barcode. This is something I am working on integrating.

      3) Ideally, pills are only loaded once their barcode is scanned thus hopefully reducing the problem of loading the wrong pill. I have no plans to accept split pills at this time as they can cause a lot of residue and are hard to sort. The next version may be able to support a manual loading of split pills though. I am thinking about integrating some simple computer vision into the automatic loading I am working on.

      4) The device doesn’t need WiFi to dispense pills. It is mostly used for notification/logging/remote management. If power outages is a concern a UPS or battery can be added to solve that problem. The system consumes only a couple of Watts. I think this is something I will be looking at a ways down the road.

      I appreciate your comments. Ideas like these really help move the project forward.

    1. Actually, the Hero is more of a vertical stack. The pill are individual cups on a horizontal rotating disk. The pill are picked up using suction and dropped in a tube above the pill cup. Hero holds up to ten meds, and can dispense multiple pills of the same med. It is pretty noisy, but that’s OK. Every few weeks it reminds me to add meds that are running low. The process is easy and nearly fool proof. The best part of having this, or any other automated dispenser, is the fact that it reminds me to take my meds and nags if I don’t. I haven’t missed a dose since I got mine and I used to miss a whole day’s worth every few weeks.

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