November 24, 2007
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October 2, 2007
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May 24, 2008
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Interactive Medication Dispenser

Project Members: 
Jonathan Breitbart
Kathleen Lu
Srikanth Narayan

Interactive Medication Dispenser


Within our group, we either have a chronic medical condition or have had a parent or grandparent with a complicated medical history. From our personal experiences and encounters, we've recognized a true need for a simple yet effective system to ease the unpleasant daily routine of taking prescription medications. When you have a medical condition that requires multiple medications taken at different times of day or at regular intervals, keeping track of what medications to take, when to take them, or how much to take becomes a confusing process. Failure to do so can sometimes compromise the effectiveness for certain medications and significatly alter daily routines.

To simplify the process, there are various products on the market. Different pill boxes serve as containers to parse out medications to be taken each day or at certain times. While there are various "reminder" products such as calendars and/or alarms, it is easy to dismiss the alerts without actually taking the required pills. We want to introduce a system that can not only serve as a container and reminder, but also as a dynamic dispenser. This system would aggregate all of the medications a person needs to take and will reinforce reminders effectively to guarantee the efficacy for a prescription.


Since a medical condition already complicates a patient's lifestyle, we envision a simple system. With pills dispensed in bottles, bottles can be plugged into chutes in the dispensing container. The system could be scheduled to dispense medications from each respective chute at a set time, and the tray would have a force sensor to detect the weight change when a pill is released from the conatiner. The system will measure the amount of time the pills sit on the tray. Some sort of light display will change colors or flash to indicate the amount of time that has passed. For example, the longer the pills sit on the tray, the more violently the light could flash or the colors could change from green to yellow to red to indicate urgency. The display could alternatively display a specific color to correspond to each medication and would display that color when the corresponding pill sits in the tray. The intensity of the color could grow as the pills sits in the tray without being taken. We may also investigate using sounds or other indicators to identify urgency in taking a specific pill. Once the pill is removed from the tray (and therefore, it is likely the medication has been taken), only then will the indicating effects will turn off.

Also, when the bottles are running low, the system can serve as a reminder that certain medications require re-fills. Perhaps a light surrounding the empty medication bottle could illuminate when the bottle is empty. A more advanced feature would be if the pill is removed an hour later than the scheduled time, the system would shift subsequently scheduled intervals accordingly and dynamically updated subsequent dispensing times for the other medications.

The system's ambient (or auditory) displays will help to reinforce interaction from the user with the product and her medications when it is required. The system will get input from the user and the stored schedule and the system will react accordingly, based on how the input might affect or change the system's subsequent behavior (and/or the stored schedule).

Design Considerations/Issues to Research

We will investigate principles for good physical designs for the system. It will be important to keep in mind that a product like this might be ideally suited for erderly people or others whose mobility is restricted. This system could also be especially effective for patients who are suffering from memory loss or demetia. Therefore, a goal will be to have a system that is pleasing to the eye (as the idea will be to keep the system in a well-traveled place in a person's life), while also noticeable enough to grab a person's attention when action is needed.

We will investigate what types of alerting effects might be most effective and would improve on current systems of alerts.

We will also need to investigate methods for inputting the actual schedule of medications into the system (i.e. whether we want to design an easy-to-use GUI for a connected laptop or other ways users might be able to specify medication details). This area might be beyond the scope of possibility for our project, but will still be worth considering for possible future development.

We will also need to investigate how the dispensing mechanism will operate, as well as how many pills/bottles to accomodate. For example, for a person who takes a large number of different medications, the system would have to be rather large to accomodate all the bottles.

We might also investigate the possibility of displaying time on the system, as well as providing specific messages, instructions, or warnings to go along with each pill that is dispensed.

Materials Needed

Container (to be designed) to hold medicine bottles and enclose necessary electronics

Arduino board

Force sensor

Mechanics to control opening and closing of chutes (perhaps using servo motors or something similar)

LEDs for light displays

(Optional) Speakers for sound emission

Related Products/Inspiration:

(Personal Experience: Self, Parent, Grandparents)

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