Explanation: PillDrops, the personalized affordable IoT platform for pill-taking automation in the home.     Today, the average American takes 14 prescriptions, the number can even go up to 20 for certain elderly citizens. That is 20 different medicines that need constant sorting, organizing, or simply remembering. For an elderly patient with memory disorders, dexterity impairments, or visual limitations, managing those pills is a nightmare. The cost of this inconvenience is not just the upsetting mood of sons and daughters, but also 25,000 annual deaths and approximately $100 billion in healthcare costs in the United States alone. To make matters worse, medical practitioners from different disciplines often do not communicate about which pills their patients are taking. The pulmonologist and cardiologist could be assigning two different pills, if accidently ingested in certain conditions, will lead to severe adverse drug reactions.

The PillDrops device is built directly to address the problem by automating the entire pill management process. A caretaker could come in once a month, dump all the pills into the slots of the device, and then input the schedule with a smart-phone, all under 5 minutes. With the prescription name provided in the mobile application, the app will automatically go through a database to check for adverse drug reactions. If a conflict is found, an alert will be sent to the caretaker. When it is time for the patient to take the pill, an alarm – or a choice of music – will notify the patient and automatically dispense the medicine. By minimizing human error to the short duration in the initial input, the inconveniences of taking multiple pills and the chances for medication “non-adherence” are both substantially mitigated.

The pill dispensing mechanism of PillDrops is rooted in the simple marriage of gravity, “brush force,” and the Archimedean screw. Within each pill holding cylinder, there stands a motor driving a central axis that’s connected to a brush. To deploy a pill, the motor enters a spinning motion which rotates the brush, pushing the pill along the walls of the cylinder aligned with metallic spiral steps. Once at the bottom of the cylinder, the pill is ejected out by the natural “push” force of the brush. A pressure sensor is then triggered by the exiting motion of the pill and stops the spinning motor, ensuring only the desired amount of pills to be deployed.

To build PillDrops, we went through various design iterations. The first prototype was a simple cardboard box with six holes on top held together by duct tape. By our fifth iteration, our prototype contains six 3-D printed cylinders aligned with copper metallic steps together with 3-D printed internal structural supports. The electronic components runs on MediaTekLinkIt One, while the mobile application was built for both iOS and Android. Finally, an majestic acrylic cover packages them all together.     The simplicity of the PillDrops design allows the entire unit to be produced at less than $50. PillDrops’ affordability opens up the possibility for mass adoption in, perhaps, every home in NY.

Inspiration: Some of history’s best ideas are often not the quick genius of one mind, but the collective contributions of many.

Born in a household with four generations of doctors, my childhood is not filled with the amusement of toys and tales of superheroes, but the wonders of anatomy models and stories of the hospital. My mother, who was a hospital administrator planted a seed of curiosity on matters regarding the medical industry. This is where my fascination began.

Perhaps it is human nature that we have a starving curiosity on all those which held our fascination. With me, my interest in the medical field led me to investigate the operational side of medicine: how clinical trials are done and how pharmaceuticals reach the patient. I dug through the handbooks of the FDA, studied the pathway of a drug from discovery to market; and finally, the statistics and psychology of patients in consuming medications. Through this research, I recognized a problem that would steer the course of my life in a new direction — the problem of polypharmacy.

To solve the coordination and management issues of polypharmacy on the hospital side is almost impossible. Our healthcare system is a dinosaur that is slow at adaptation. The jumbled web of interest conflicts between pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers, and hospitals make the application of any potential solution almost impossible. I have a vision of a more interconnected medical industry. One that integrates the technological advancements of the 21st century directly with patients. Exactly how this might look, was unclear to me at the time.

I then met Phillip Chao through an entrepreneurship program. We often spoke together, trading ideas and playing with them in our minds. We both have an interest in the medical field, but his is from a different perspective. His grandfather takes eight medications a day along with additional supplement tablets; and he was given the responsibility to make sure it goes smoothly. It was a tedious chore, a robotic task that should be left to the machines.

That is how PillDrops was born.    

By combining the physical action of a pill-dispenser along with the data analysis capacity of an IoT design,  PillDrops is able to solve both of the above problems perfectly. Nobody wants to use an app or a box for no reason. Just like how Google is able to collect and apply enormous amount of data through simple search queries, PillDrops is able to offer an entire IoT platform by dispensing pills.

On the way of development, we ran into many inspiring minds that contributed to the design and the latest iterations. Dixon, for example, suggested a spiral-screw cylinder to keep costs at the low-end while ensuring a wide range of pills could be deployed with accuracy. Some stayed with us for months, others stayed for weeks. Their collective ideas—visions for the future—all came together in this machine.    This, however, is only a start.

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