Designing a better mouth

A project log for Medcheck

IoT pill dispenser with alerts to ensure compliance

bsuttonbsutton 04/17/2015 at 22:450 Comments

Medcheck is all about taking pills, so having an optimal mouth is critical to Medcheck's success.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm an evolutionists, but sometimes you just need an Intelligent Designer's hand involved to get the best results.

Given we don't have any Intelligent Designers here abouts, it looks like I'm going to have to get involved :D

For sometime, I've been concerned about the mouth of the MedCheck dispenser when used by people with low hand mobility. Arthritis for instance, is likely to be a common disease amongst our demographic.

The current design requires the user to scoop the tablets out of the dispenser, probably into a cup and then take the tablets. This requires a moderate amount of dexterity.

So an alternate design might be to dispense directly into a cup.

Introducing a cup creates some problems of its own and greatly increases the complexity of the design. But lets ignore those problems for a moment and explore the path.

Missing cup

If the cup isn't in the dispenser or isn't properly seated in the dispenser then you can't dispense tablets.

Given that we expect our demographic to potentially have memory issues, misplacing the cup is highly likely.

So for a cup design to work we need several things.

1. The cup must be easy to insert/remove

2. It should be hard to mis-align the cup

3. MedCheck must be able to detect a missing cup

4. If the cup goes missing we need a simple way to find the cup.

5. Can we turn the cup into a travel pack?

So lets go through each of these one at a time.

Easy insertion/Alignment

So in my experience these two things are at opposing poles. A device that ensures correct alignment often tends to make it hard to insert the device. The only way to see if we can get a nice balance is to do some design work. Where is that Intelligent Designer when you need one?

Missing Cup Detection

The simplest solution is some type of micro-switch, but I don't love moving parts and from experience they tend to compound the alignment problems. My wife has one of those over-priced Thermomix's (which she loves; but she would have to say that given what she paid for it) and it uses a microswitch to ensure that the lid is closed and its always a bit of a bitch to close properly (and one imagines that they have a few intelligent designers chained to a work bench somewhere in Germany).

The other solution is some type of field device. RFID is one possibility and then we can add DRM to the cups, so you can only buy the cups from us :D . Whilst I joke about DRM, its actually not a bad idea as it would ensure that the correct cup is inserted and that no pills will be lost due to 'cup misalignment'.

Make cup an iBeacon device

If you haven't had a look at iBeacon or better still altBeacon its worth a gander.

If I've understood the tech correctly, its essentially a low power Bluetooth protocol that outputs a gps style signal. The signal can be used to determine the current distance from an object with a beacon attached. Some of the implementations allow the determination of a distance and a direction via triangulation, if multiple beacons are deployed .

iBeacon is Applies copyrighted (as that a word) name for a blue tooth low power protocol. Apparently some of these beacons can operate for two years on a small battery. AltBeacon is a more open standard that works across Android devices and it looks like there are beacons that can talk to both Apple and Android.

So back to the cup. Given our demographic losing/misplacing a cup seems highly likely. So designing the cup as a bluetooth device which can beep and buzz when you loose it, seems like a cool idea. If you then go further and add the beacon technology to the cup you can use your smartphone to locate the cup.

We wouldn't be able to use the triangulation technology of the beacon as we will only have two potential beacons the cup and the medcheck.

Hmm, maybe thats not actually true. I think I read somewhere that your phone can also act as a beacon. Does that mean with cup, medcheck and the phone we can actually do triangulation or do we need a fourth device? I'm pretty sure that the gps system needs at least 4 devices but that is probably to do with the need to calculate altitude which we don't.

Make the cup a travel pack

So if we are going to make the cup intelligent why not put a timer in the cup and add a lid.

If you are going out for the day you can get medcheck to 'pre-dispense' your medication into a cup. When the medication is dispensed the unit also programs the cups timer. When its time to take your meds, you cup beeps, flashes and vibrates.

You can then have multiple cups pre-programmed for doses during the day when you are traveling further.

I have to say, that I love this idea and it does justify further investigation.


At this point I'm going to put this idea on the backburner as its a fairly complex addition and we have our work cut out for use getting the rest of the model done. If we make some stunning progress on the rest of the system I would like to come back and revisit this idea.

The travel pack idea really does need to be looked at. What about a standalone product - a programmed travel pack.