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Automatic Pill Dispenser

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Final Pill Dispenser Prototype

As part of a first-year engineering course at Northeastern University, I was tasked to identify a problem in the world and then solve it using the engineering design process. Through research, I learned that 21% of people who take pills fail to follow their prescription and 6% of people are unable to identify which medication is which. Improper consumption of medication can lead to serious illness or even death, so it was important that a device exists to alert a user when it is time to take a medication and dispense the proper amount of medication.

To solve this problem, I collaborated with a group of engineering students to develop an automatic pill dispenser utilizing two separate Arduino microcontrollers working together. In the group, I wrote all the Arduino code to program the dispenser and designed the entire housing and mechanical operations. In just under 1000 lines of Arduino code, I configured the device allow the user to set the number of pills to be dispensed and set the intervals which they need each medication to be dispensed. The user would interact with a simple two button input and LCD so that our target consumer would be able to operate it without issue. 

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Fritzing diagram of pill dispensing circuit

The dispenser would then dispense the correct amount of medication into a cup at the set intervals making use of a “gumball-machine-like” turnstile mechanism operated with servo motors. Once the pills were dispensed, it would alert the user with an alarm and a flashing LED. The device we created was targeted toward elderly individuals so making it simple, yet loud and attention grabbing, were top priorities. We also made our system able to hold four different medications, but designed it with the intent to be modular, to be easily scaled up to accommodate

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Fritzing diagram of pill quantity monitoring and alert system

SolidWorks drawing of planned housing with sectioned turnstile mechanism

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for individuals with more medications to be taken at dynamic time intervals. 

 

In addition to the dispensing functionality, the device would also keep track of how many pills were left for each individual pill container alert the user via another LED when they are running low.

At the top of the page, the final prototype of the automatic pill dispenser is shown, constructed primarily from foamboard.

I designed a housing to be laser cut from wood that would fit together making use of interference fit tabs. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was unable to use my university's makerspace before the end of the semester to 3D print and laser cut components. Luckily, I did have all the tools required to make a fully functioning prototype which worked flawlessly. A drawing of what the finished product would have looked like is shown above.

Even with the electrical components and anticipated costs of laser cutting and 3D printing, the cost of the device would have been under $20 making it quite accessible financially to users compared to similar products on the market today.

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