A pair of Cambridge University students have taken the crowdfunding route to try to commercialize a smarter kind of pill box. They’re looking to raise £30,000 ($48,000) via Kickstarter to turn their Bluetooth connected Memo Box prototype, developed over the past two years, into a shipping product.
The pill box links up to the owner’s smartphone so that usage can be monitored, allowing the companion Android or iOS app to flag when the user has left home without the pillbox, for instance. The Memo Box also tracks the times when it is opened — using that data to feed a learning algorithm so it can determine or even predict whether the owner has missed a dose and remind them via an alert.
Co-founder Meichen Lu argues this offers a more intelligent reminder than a static alarm, since the alarm won’t sound if the user opened the box at around the time they were due to take a dose. So should be less annoying.
The assumption is that Memo Box owners will only open the box in order to take a dose, so the optional intelligent alarm feature is not foolproof if the user forgets to swallow the pill after getting it out of the box — but may help with general reminders for less essential pill taking, such as dietary supplements.
“We recommend it’s usage for dietary supplement only as the gain in convenience trade-off well with probability of error. It’s a Bayesian model predicting the probability that you took the medicine when you accessed Memo Box and getting occasional feedbacks from you,” explains Lu. “For example, if it predicts that, when you access Memo, as ‘small probability event’ for second time (open Memo 1 hr in advance of your schedule), model is shifted to think that it is a more probable event. It occasionally [asks for] user’s feedback (a single click of confirmation) when the evolution of the model is a bit more drastic.”
It can also warn against double dosing, since it can remind you if you recently opened the pill box so may have taken your dose already. And, since it’s connected to the Internet, alerts about missed doses can be pushed out to others — so that, for instance, a family member could monitor whether their loved one has remembered to take their medicine.
The duo behind Memo Box made a conscious decision that ‘less is more’ on the sensing hardware front, opting to focus on developing learning algorithms that utilize probability to predict whether medicine has been taken, rather than trying to pinpoint usage with “expensive and power hungry sensors”.
“The tradeoff of putting power hungry and expensive (and often unreliable) sensors for a few percent increases in probability of making the right prediction is not worth it,” says Lu. “We have learnt so much about manufacturing in the last two years that we now cringe at the idea of using sensor that is not very well battle tested. We want to build something that we would use it ourselves and not something that over promises and under delivers.”
The Memo Box also includes a button on the exterior that, when pressed, will display the next pills the user is scheduled to take within the app, as a neat reminder.
The interior of the box has been designed to take various types of pills and medicines, including loose pills, blister packs, and small ampules or eye drops. Larger versions of the Memo Box may be created if the crowdfunding project hits a stretch goal. Users will be asked to vote on larger designs that could also accommodate inhalers and insulin pens if more than £350,000 is raised via the crowdfunding campaign.
The Memo Box starts at £25 to early Kickstarter backers, with an estimated shipping schedule of next May if it makes its funding goal. At the time of writing the team has raised just over £1,250 from 45 backers, with 43 days left on their campaign.