As our team was doing some spring cleaning, we noticed the abundance of expired medications stacking up in the medicine closet. After conducting thorough research, we were shocked to find that in 2018 alone, roughly 5.8 billion prescriptions were dispensed in the US. In addition, after conducting our own surveys this weekend, we noted that people often throw away expired medication in the trash or flush it down the toilet, both of which have dire environmental effects. as it contributes to landfill and pollution, and in some cases, mutations for aquatic life. A team of tech enthusiasts, we knew technology was the answer to this problem.
What it does
Our project, PillPlant, includes two components: a device and companion web app.
PillPlant is a device that solves the issue of expired medicine disposal by purifying and extracting the beneficial nutrients from pills and tablets, ultimately turning medication into a nutrient-enriched fertilizer that can be used in the garden. PillPlant provides an easy and effective way for homeowners to identify and recycle their expired medicine. It can also be used for professional medical environments, such as pharmacies, to reduce environmental toxication of expired medication.
Alongside the device, we produced an app that uses machine learning and image recognition to scan medication barcodes to identify whether or not the medication is compatible with PillPlant. Once the user scans the barcode, the app displays information about the medication, such as its active ingredients, inactive ingredients, and if PillPlant is compatible with the medication. The app also features tips and information on how to properly dissolve tablets as well as which tablets work the best to supply nutrients for plants.
How we built it
Although we plan for PillPlant’s companion app to be mobile in the future, we coded a web app to produce a prototype that showcased all of the features. The web app is built with HTML, CSS, Python, and the Flask API is integrated to support our scan feature.
Our mobile app prototype was designed on Canva, and our device was designed on Adobe Illustrate and Autodesk.
Challenges we ran into
As inexperienced web developers, we ran into challenges coding the features of the scan page to analyze images of medication barcodes and find the corresponding data regarding ingredients and compatibility with our device. Thanks to the Flask API, we were able to overcome this challenge by utilizing machine learning and image recognition. Another challenge that we encountered was while prototyping our mobile app. We debated whether or not we should have app users create their own accounts for privacy concerns, but ultimately decided to create a log-in page with the condition that we would incorporate extra security measures to keep patient data secure.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
One of our major accomplishments was that we were able to develop a physical prototype of the purification device. Although we were on a time crunch in regards to coding our mobile app and creating a pitch video, we wanted to visualize what PillPlant would look like if it were to be manufactured -- this helped us and our interviewees better understand our concept and the problem we were trying to solve.
We are also proud of the mobile app prototype that we created, as this prototype outlines what we want PillPlant’s companion app to look like in the future.
Another accomplishment was that we were able to contact and receive support from numerous individuals who specialized in the fields of biology, toxicology, and environmental science. These people gave us a plethora of suggestions to make our device more effective and helped us ensure that PillPlant would be safe to use.
What we learned
It was interesting to learn and understand how machine learning can be integrated into code, and how code written in HTML differs from code written in Python. It was also incredibly fascinating to learn about various sanitization techniques, especially amidst COVID-19, and analyze how we could incorporate a plethora of purification methods, such as UV rays and carbon filtration, into our prototype.
What's next for PillPlant
We want to release PillPlant into the market, in order to do so, we have a couple of key steps to take. Firstly, we will convert our web app into a mobile app that is more accessible and efficient to use. We also want to research bioaccumulation and its’ effect on plants by conducting our own studies and experiments. As of right now, we have received confirmation from subject area experts that the PillPlant liquid fertilizer will be usable for non-consumable plants. Through more in-depth research, we will be able to study PillPlant liquid fertilizer and its’ impact on plant life. Lastly, we want to design a commercial-sized device that can be purchased and used by large pharmaceutical companies.