Pill Minder - Automatic Pill Dispenser

Automatic pill dispenser for the aging and forgetful

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More and more people these days take medication on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many aging people have trouble remembering when to take pills. The Pill Minder is a machine to take the guess work out of medicating.

Planned features include:
*Easy loading of pills
*Storage for multiple types of pills
*Ability to dispense pills at specific times
*Persistent audio-visual reminder when pills are dispensed
*Clock with AM/PM indication for those who lose track of time

Stretch features include:
*Audio prompts
*Ability to identify bottles by bar-code

Project Progress

  • Brainstorm functional requirements - Done
  • Brainstorm: mechanical solutions - Done
  • Digital prototypes
    • Rotating Plate - Done
    • Tube - Done
    • Cascading Container - Done
    • Stacked Container - Done
  • Determine "Project Direction" - Done (Cartridge Type)
  • Physical prototype
    • Cartridge Mounting - In progress
    • Cartridge Dispensing - In progress
    • Appliance
    • Human interactions
  • Define electrical scope - In progress
  • Define program scope - In progress
  • Prototype electrical system
  • Prototype GUI
  • Working Prototype
    • Complete prototype
    • Failure analysis
    • Determine improvements
  • Revision 1

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  • Cartridge Design - Dispensing (Other)

    dthunes04/29/2015 at 19:17 2 comments

    We had a meeting last night, a decided we may have put the cart before the horse. Once we decided to go with the cartridge design, we just assumed it would have an internal "tube" holding the pills. We failed to look at alternative methods of packing/storing pills. Below are a few more pill dispenser ideas:

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  • Cartridge Design - Dispensing

    dthunes04/29/2015 at 18:29 0 comments

    The cartridge dispensing method is still up in the air. We brainstormed 3 ideas - plastic film with holes, a rotating drum, and a reciprocating plate. In each of these designs, the cartridge has a tube which holds the pills and a dispensing mechanism (except the motor, which is part of the machine). Below are the initial concept drawings:

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  • Cartridge Design - Cartridge to Appliance Interface

    dthunes04/28/2015 at 22:28 0 comments

    Pills come in various sizes and shapes, and because of that, the cartridge template needs to be modular enough to accommodate different designs. We'd also like it to be flexible enough to accommodate ideas and designs we haven't though of yet. I'd ideally like the size and shape of the cartridge to be completely flexible (as long as it fits into the proper envelope). The only rigid part of the design would then be the mounting, actuation, and machine readable portions of the cartridge.

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  • Cartridge Design - Overview

    dthunes04/28/2015 at 21:53 0 comments

    The first step in designing our machine it to figure out a template for the cartridge. We need this so we can figure out the scale of the appliance. Design considerations are as follows:

    • Cartridge should enter appliance from the front
    • Cartridge should have a standard mounting design across all cartridges
      • (Pill scale can vary between 1/8"x1/8"x1/16" and 1"x1/2"x1/2")
    • Cartridges will have non-standard dimensions
      • (Very small pills will not need as much room as very large pills, in general)
    • Cartridge should require little dexterity to insert and remove
      • (Use an ink cartridge as a meter - nothing requiring more dexterity)
    • Cartridge should have a machine readable aspect
      • (Unique ID, medication name, and/or dosage)
    • Cartridge should have a standard actuation method
      • (The same actuation method is used for very large and very small pills)

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  • Project Direction - Resolved

    dthunes04/15/2015 at 00:20 0 comments

    After an in depth discussion, we've decided to go with the cartridge style (option 2) design. Although a cartridge system limits openness, we feel that it is ultimately a better direction.

    Benefits of cartridge style:

    • Eliminate many machine mechanisms
      • Pill intake
      • Pill sorting
    • Eliminates the need to input (most) pill information
      • Pill info can be linked to cartridge
      • Dosing information can be linked to cartridge
    • More consistent pill dispensing
    • More open-ended packing options
      • Cartridges can be upgraded or design after the fact
      • Not constrained to pre-chosen pill sizes
      • Not constrained to standard pill shapes

  • Scale

    dthunes04/14/2015 at 22:04 0 comments

    Dmopalmer suggested we use a load cell or scale to verify pills. The AWS-100 was suggested as a cheap scale to hack. The scale was easy to tear apart (5 screws on top and some screws for the circuit board and load cell). The circuit board seems quite simple - 6 capacitors, a resistor and a microcontroller connected to a screen, led backlight, and load cell. Unfortunately the micro is covered with epoxy and i'm no reverse engineer.

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  • Project Direction - An appeal for input

    dthunes04/06/2015 at 23:34 2 comments

    I have a choice to make regarding the direction of the project, and I'd like to solicit feedback from the community. As I see it, my pill dispensing project can now go one of two ways:

    1. Universal solution (Accept most pills, from pill bottles - complex and possibly unreliable)
    2. Cartridge style (Only accept "Pill Minder" cartridges - simple, but possibly proprietary)

    Currently, I'm only planning on making a few "finished" machines - one for my grandfather (who has Alzheimer's) and one or two for family friends. But, I want to make the best product I can make, which leads me to an interesting hypothetical.

    Who is my target market, and what do I want to do with this machine? Do I want to partner with a large company like Walgreens and have my product only work with Walgreens branded cartridges? This would probably impact the largest number of people. Do I want a universal pill solution - as-seen-on-TV? My target demographic definitely overlaps with theirs. There are clear pros and cons of each choice. Please tell me what you think.

  • Concept - What to choose?

    dthunes04/02/2015 at 19:24 5 comments

    Up to this point, four virtual prototypes have been made.

    1. Rotating Plate
    2. Tube
    3. Cascading Container
    4. Stacked Container

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  • Concept - Containers (Stacked)

    dthunes04/02/2015 at 16:23 0 comments

    The last log details a tall, skinny, cascading storage system. This concept is a fat, short system that does not cascade. Each pill type is stored on a different level (in a veined carousel), with a shared shaft to add/remove pills. Unfortunately, this adds complexity, with a "shuttle" to access different levels (for adding pills) and possibly a second shuttle to rotate individual levels.

    I was also toying with the idea of a shake conveyor, in this case vibrating a piece of sloped angle aluminum. Below are some renderings.

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  • Concept - Containers (Cascading)

    dthunes04/02/2015 at 16:00 0 comments

    This concept departs from the "store pills and dispense them one at a time" theme. Instead, doses (one or more pills) are held in individual containers. By making a rotating carousel of fins, and clever top/bottom plates, a high-density cascading system can be created.

    Read more »

View all 14 project logs

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hackenrique wrote 12/22/2015 at 19:55 point

I might be outdated but load-cells in the past have been used more for heavy work, not these little ones... I personally installed them for truck and railroad scales... YEARS ago :o)

  Are you sure? yes | no

hackenrique wrote 12/22/2015 at 18:10 point

Interested into a device using the cartridge principle. We need to prepare daily packages with diverse pills each. this will mainly be for natural supplements.

We are within WI.

  Are you sure? yes | no

dthunes wrote 12/22/2015 at 19:35 point

Awesome! We debated a lot about how to do the cartridges. We decided to go with a system similar to electronic component reels: A vacuum formed hard backing strip with a soft cover, or two laminated soft strips.

  Are you sure? yes | no

hackenrique wrote 12/22/2015 at 20:00 point

Something that would go better with our needs could be the device you sometime illustrated that takes bulk caplets and aligns them into a tube... It had a tilted disk with cavities for the shape of the caplets. I have not found it again. The ideal would be to have up to 100 tubes in a carousel, and set it to drop certain number of different pills in a pack for each patient. We need to produce for the patient 30 packets per month.

  Are you sure? yes | no

dthunes wrote 12/22/2015 at 20:39 point

If you have access to a laser cutter, a spinning plate is really easy to prototype - all you need is some acrylic sheet at least half a pill diameter in thickness.

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dmopalmer wrote 04/01/2015 at 09:37 point

Put a scale stage ( load cell, analog spring resistor, etc.) at the bottom to verify number and type of pills

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dthunes wrote 04/01/2015 at 13:20 point

Thanks, thats a very good idea. We were looking at ways to verify the pill type and verify that the medication was removed. We were thinking that optical gates just wouldn't cut it.

  Are you sure? yes | no

dthunes wrote 04/02/2015 at 15:44 point

Do you have a good source for load cells? Should I just tear apart a kitchen scale?

  Are you sure? yes | no

dmopalmer wrote 04/03/2015 at 02:55 point

Maybe not a load cell for something this small.  Not a kitchen scale you would use to weigh a pound of flour, since those typically read out in grams.

I bought this scale a little while ago, $10 for 100g capacity in 0.01 gram increments.  I have not taken it apart to see if there's any place to hack in to the sensor chain or readout.

That is probably more like it.  Some small pills I have (10 mg of allergy drug) are 0.10 g each according to that scale, so I'd say you need 0.01g resolution or better in case some pills are even smaller.  A 1000 mg vitamin C pill has at least a gram of active ingredient, plus binders etc. so you probably need a capacity of at least 10 g.  That's a dynamic range of about a thousand.

If you are dispensing a tiny pill and a big one, drop the little one first so you don't have to detect the small change in a big value.

People have had success with using meter movements (old fashioned d'Arsonval galvanometers as sensitive balances: how much current do you need to lift the needle and the contents of a balance pan is linear to the total weight.

  Are you sure? yes | no

dthunes wrote 04/03/2015 at 03:12 point

I ordered the scale. Apparently it has a min reading of 0.03 grams, but that should be fine. I'll post a reply if its easily hackable.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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