OxyControl: HACKDUKE 2020 - Health and Wellness Track
The team was on a Zoom call, discussing project ideas, when Marc's mom, who is an RN and works in education, mentioned that overuse of prescription opioids is one of the leading causes of opioid dependency. After doing a bit of research, the team discovered that many of the solutions to prescription opioid dose control are either designed specifically for use in a formal healthcare environment or are prohibitively expensive for at-home use. As a result, the team decided to design a solution for dosage control that utilizes reusable, low cost, and off-the-shelf parts and thus is suitable for the home environment.
What it does
OxyControl is a secure dispenser for narcotics that enforces a strict dosing schedule and locks out if the dosing schedule is violated. This schedule is programmable by the prescribing physician and can be customized to any parameters that they see fit. In its current form, the dispenser can hold up to 7 doses of extended-release oxycontin, though it can be readily reconfigured to hold other pills in other quantities as well.
The pills are housed in the back compartment of the device, placed inside of a wheel that is rotated by a servo motor. A padlock is placed over the cap that ensures the pills cannot be removed other than by a pharmacist or by waiting for a preprogrammed amount of time for the next pill. When the device is first powered on, a pill is available to be dispensed. When the patient pushes a button, the first pill is dispensed and the device becomes locked for the programmed dosage interval.
After the dosage interval ends, the LED on the button will illuminate, and the LCD will display a message stating that the next dose is available. However, it will not release the dose until the button is pressed. Should the individual not take a pill over the course of two dosage periods, the device will lockout and no more pills will be released until they visit their pharmacist. This is following the assumption that the individual no longer needs the narcotics if they skip two doses, and is put in place to avoid building a dependence on the drugs.
Finally, after the last dose is taken, or if the patient skips two doses, the LCD displays a message instructing them to return the device to the pharmacy. This allows the product to be reusable as the pharmacist can refill, reprogram, and recharge the dispenser for future patients.
How we built it
We tackled the project by splitting it into two components: mechanical and electrical. This allowed us to break off into sub-teams and complete the aspects individually before coming together to finalize the results. Half of the group worked on modeling the structure of the design using CAD software, while the other half focused on developing an electrical design as well as writing the code for the product. After ensuring that it all interfaced well, we developed a prototype to illustrate the concept and function and simulated the circuit in Tinkercad to verify the functionality of the device. We managed collaboration with a combination of Discord, Zoom, and GitHub.
Challenges we ran into
The primary challenge that we ran into was the simulation of the circuit in Tinkercad. While Tinkercad is a relatively robust software suite, it lacks compatibility with certain C-compatible C++ libraries and syscalls. This required some rather extensive refactoring and utilization of pointer-arithmetic to avoid the use of sprintf. However, this function could likely be used in production without any real concerns and would greatly reduce the verbosity of the source.
Additionally, while we wanted to utilize a 360-degree servo for the actuation of the pill-wheel, we wound up having to settle for a 180-degree servo as inexpensive 360-degree servos are hard to come by. We considered utilizing a stepper motor instead, but the lack of feedback without an encoder and the larger form-factor and footprint of conventional steppers made this option prohibitive.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We're incredibly proud of the fact that we were able to put together a functional hardware project in 24-hours. While we did not have the opportunity to physically prototype the device given the time constraints of the project, we suspect that with a little tinkering and the luck of the digifab gods, we could have one completed within a couple of days.
Additionally, all of the team members live in states where the opioid epidemic is incredibly severe, and we are happy to be able to contribute to the mitigation of this crisis in the future. We are very excited to see this prototype physically implemented in the near future and are in the process of securing an avenue in the State of Delaware to distribute this device if it proves successful.
Finally, all members of the team were able to substantially contribute to all aspects of the design and development of the project and were able to capitalize on their unique backgrounds and skillsets for the benefit of the team.
What we learned
One of the defining aspects of our team was the fact that we came from a variety of different backgrounds. This diversity of skillset allowed us to learn from one another. The ECEs were able to learn a good deal about mechanical design from the MechE and the MechE learned about fault-tolerant code and embedded system design. We also learned how to effectively manage a remote project on an extremely short deadline, which is an incredibly useful skill in the current STEM workplace.
What's next for OxyControl
Going forward, we hope to expand the pill capacity, mass-produce the device to reduce cost, enhance the security of the device with biometrics, and produce similar devices that will prevent patients from forgetting their medications. This could include a “smart pillbox” that can determine whether or not pills have been removed as of each day, and send reminders to the user via an app.
Additionally, we are pursuing a potential opportunity with the State of Delaware to develop this prototype further, and if successful, hope to distribute it to prescribing physicians and pharmacies throughout the state.