Tag Archives: automatic

Automatic Pill Dispenser

Update 3/13/13:

Medicine Drug Pills on Plate
Medicine Drug Pills on Plate (Photo credit: epSos.de)

It appears this solution is already well under way by several capable companies. You can read about eight companies in Jonah Comstock’s article over at MobiHealthNews. The last two, by e-Pill and Phillips are not particularly impressive or appealing to me, being based on older technology, but the rest appear quite interesting.

  • Vitality GlowCaps – Being sold out of CVS for $60. First a light, then music, and finally a phone call notify the individual to take their medication. This is a reasonably priced product, though eventually I’d like to see every pill bottle come with this technology built-in and prices drop for separately purchased bottles come down to $5-$10/ea. This apparently requires a base station and also a monthly AT&T service charge.
  • AdhereTech Smart Pill Bottle.
  • Abiogenix’s uBox.
  • MedMinder – This product is impressive and available. It appears that you do not purchase the device outright but “rent” it. The cost is between $40-$60/mo., which IMHO is a bit expensive, I’d like to see maybe $10/mo., but hey, for those who are taking a lot of pills and especially for the elderly with memory problems, this is probably a worthwhile investment.
  • MedSignal’s Pill Case/Gateway – Currently pending FDA approval, only available for research purposes.

If I was the Obama administration, this is one area I’d be looking to foster growth with the expectation that it can significantly reduce healthcare costs. According to Abiogenix’s site non-adherence costs over $300 billion in wasted spending in the United States each year. How about cutting that down by 80-90%?

The Problem

I struggle with overpowering daytime sleepiness. This may be compounded by the fact I take Adderall XR for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).[1] I recently went to my psychiatrist and discussed this issue with him[2] and he gave me a supplemental Adderall prescription. This is not an uncommon method of dealing with this increased sleepiness once the medication wears off. I take the supplemental pill later in the day when the first one runs out.[3] In addition to all this, I also take Prozac (fluoxetine) – 60 mg (three 20 mg tablets)[4]. I filled my prescriptions and went home.

The next morning I went into my usual auto-pilot mode – taking medications and vitamins, brushing teeth, showering, deodorant and so on. It wasn’t until I had taken my medications that I realized I had accidentally taken three 20 mg Adderall tablets instead of three 20 mg Prozac tablets. Thankfully, this was not a critical overdose for me…but had it been another medication, it could have been.

But my personal mixup one morning is fairly simple compared to those faced by many others. I’ve worked a bit with the elderly, including those who are suffering from various forms of progressive brain degradation. These individuals find themselves in a dangerous place when they cannot remember during the day whether they have already taken their medications for the day or not. Many of them don’t want to move into assisted living homes just yet, and apart from this sort of minute detail are still capable of living independently…but an inability to remember when medications were last taken can quickly remove this independence.

Lets throw a few more problem areas into consideration. For example, I take vitamin supplements in addition to my medications – Vitamin B complex, Vitamin D, Daily MultiVitamin, Omega-3, and so on. It gets old very quick popping open eight or so different pill containers to get these pills out each and every day (and I know that many take many times more pills each day than I do). Some days I will just my medications and maybe one vitamin supplement and dash off to work…

Then there is the issue of regularity, especially for those with mental illness or who suffer side effects from taking a medication. It is always tempting to skip one day – a few – a week or two, a month. The efficacy of most medications is greatly reduced when taken in this haphazard way and for individuals with mental illness oftentimes results in a significant relapse.

And these are just a few of the challenges facing those who take medication and/or supplements on a regular basis. Sure, they are surmountable by willpower and self-discipline…but when technology can make our lives easier I prefer to spend my willpower and self-discipline on more substantive areas.

Proposed Solution

We’ll talk more about the complexity and cost of this solution later, but I want to note at this point that I believe this could be an extremely affordable solution. In early stages I wouldn’t want to see its cost exceed that of the Raspberry Pi computer at $35…and with wide utilization I would see this being a commodity product that would replace traditional pill containers at no-cost to the consumer.

If you know me, you know I’m not an artist, but here is my attempt to depict visually what the solution would look like…I’ll step through it as we go on…

Figure 1. Automatic Pill Dispenser

The automatic pill dispenser is expandable. The above figure represents a dispenser with six individual dispenser units. If one had only one medication, one would need only one dispenser. Each additional dispenser can simply be connected (think legos) to the next. Dispensers could vary in size – but the goal is that they be as small as possible, allowing for a good number of them to be connected together without consuming significant space.

  • Each dispenser would have a small display which would show the number of pills remaining in that dispenser.
  • Below that another small display showing the quantity an individual programmed the dispenser to give each day.
  • The Give button would dispense the above desired number of pills – if they had not already been dispensed for the day.
  • Holding down the Give button for ten seconds would force it to release an additional pill (e.g. if for some reason the system malfunctioned and dropped only one pill when it should drop two, this would allow one to “force” the system to drop another).
  • The + and – keys would be used to change both the number of pills in the unit and the quantity to be given each day. You’d hold down the plus key until one of the displays above began blinking. Whichever display was blinking indicates the display you would be changing for the value of.

Ideally, eventually pill boxes would no longer be distributed – each pill box would be one of these dispensers. It would come pre-programmed with the correct number of pills and dosage. Until such a time it doesn’t make sense to have the pill dispensers be disposed after each use – so they would be refillable. One would dump the new medications when received into the dispenser and reset the dosage and number of pills.

A Little More to It…

This in and of itself would be extremely helpful…but I’d like to take it a little further. Did anyone wonder why the units lock together? Besides making it orderly there is another reason. Each unit would have its own “intelligence” (that powers the display, etc.), but one would also have a lock-on extra unit that would contain a central brain. Really this brain would be very weak (and inexpensive). It would consist of a WiFi chip that would relay information from the pill dispensers to a central hosted server transparently.

Individuals could open up their web browser, type in the website (say davesamazingpilldispenser.com) and login using a username and password they select. Once inside they would be able to (a) set values from a web console rather than on each dispenser (this would be much quicker for those who have lots of pills), (b) determine accountability partners who would receive email alerts when the dispensers were not decrementing at the expected rate (e.g. someone stops taking their pills for x number of days perhaps the doctor, spouse, or family friend is notified via email or text message), (c) view (and share if desired) charts indicating their history of medication use (this would help, for example, when a medication needs to be taken 3x a day…the dispenser would mark each time the pill was taken and this could be analyzed by the individual or a doctor for issues).

Now, all of this can be done fairly simply and initially. Further on one might add the ability for the pill dispenser to automatically order refills of medications/vitamins via integration with online pharmacies / amazon for vitamins.

Talking About Price

The dispenser boxes are using fairly simple circuits and mechanisms. I don’t see any reason why these could not be manufactured very cheaply. I’ll work on putting together some figures – but my goal would be that each dispenser would not cost more than $5 and the WiFi component $5-$10. Thus, if one takes six medications and wants WiFi one might make an investment of $35-$40. Factor this out over a year and it is an expense I think worthwhile…and there is no reason the dispensers could not last for multiple years – especially if the web console is used instead of the buttons (which, over time, may wear out).

What It Won’t Do

There are a few things the initial pill dispenser wouldn’t do – though I think these features could be added over time. The biggest of these is that it won’t keep people from abusing it. That is – someone will be able to break open the pill dispenser, tell it to give more than they should be taking, or have the dispenser release pills and then throw them away. I believe the vast majority of issues with medication adherence are related more to accidents and forgetfulness than to deceit or other maliciousness. Creating safety mechanisms in the initial device would raise the cost significantly – and unnecessarily – for the vast majority of users.

Doesn’t Somebody Already Do This?

There are a few companies I found who build automatic pill dispensers. These include MedReady and ePill. However, I was disappointed in these units as they all lacked various features…and most significantly, they are quite expensive (anywhere from $100-$900). I think this industry is ready for disruption.

What Now?

I’m not sure. This is an idea I think is simple enough to be accomplished. I guess I’ll put out a call to see if anyone is interested. Maybe you are? I’d love to hear thoughts and contributions from the MAKE and Kickstarter communities and from those who would be interested in using/purchasing such a product. I see the components necessary to undertake this project and build a prototype as follows:

  • Manufacturing: We’d need to manufacturer the automatic pill dispenser. This would mainly be a simple pill box but with the addition of a mechanism to release pills.
  • Circuitry: We’d need to develop the circuitry to operate the machinery, interlock with other dispensers, and allow changes to the values stored by the dispenser.
  • WiFi: We’d need to create the wifi unit.
  • Web Console: Data would need to be parsed and displayed via a secure web portal.

If you work or are a hobbyist in any of these arenas, I’d be interested in hearing from you. The web console I could fairly easily take care of myself…but I do not have significant experience with building circuitry or manufacturing. I do have a good bit of programming experience, but not much in the area of device automation…


We can discuss how any revenues – should they arise – would be distributed…but at this juncture I am largely interested in creating a prototype. I’m willing to donate time and effort to the cause and are looking for others interested in doing so…but there isn’t any money here to start with, so no need to contact if you want to be paid up-front for your work…maybe someday there is a hope you might be…but, its just that a hope – for you and me.

If it comes down to it I’d rather see it implemented with no profit margin than derive profits with only limited distribution.


Diagram.ly deserves a big thanks for their sweet and free online diagramming software I used to create my artistically challenged 2D diagram above.

  1. [1]My daytime sleepiness predates taking medication for ADD, so there isn’t a causative link. The Adderall does help me stay awake and focused, but when it  flushes out of my system it may cause an additional “crash” in addition to the regular sleepiness struggle.
  2. [2]Yes, I see a psychiatrist on a regular basis and have for a number of years. I feel a bit embarrassed about it – which is funny, as I talk about my mental health issues all the time…I guess saying one sees a psychiatrist makes the problems more “real” and “severe.” But I committed to reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues, so I’ll leave this in the article.
  3. [3]For those who would suggest that I may have a sleep disorder – e.g. sleep apnea or etc., I agree…though oftentimes the treatment for these disorders is similar to ADD. I have undergone a sleep study at Abington Hospital and am looking forward to an upcoming discussion regarding the results of that study with my primary physician.
  4. [4]Yes, that does seem high…it is. Depression generally responds to significantly lower doses, but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) does not and requires higher doses before it provides substantive relief.

LitterMaid Elite Mega LME 9250.

This is another reprint of an earlier review I made on a older blog. I’ve posted it here for records sake – and also in case anyone has not read it previously. It is a review of the LitterMaid automatic cat litter box. It has been edited slightly from its original content.


I was searching one day for litter. I was looking for some solution, I was just tired of the cats tracking the litter onto the floor, the smell, and the constant cleaning. In the sponsored results came up an ad for an automatic litterbox. I was fascinated. Using a small robotic arm the cleaner would trigger itself automatically using sensors once the cat exited the box. The litter was pushed into a small air-tight container and left you without having to do maintenance for nearly a month. Wow, quite the upgrade.


So I decided not to purchase one for the time being, but at my last day at work it was mentioned that some of the guys had an automatic litter box and they loved it. I had to pick up cat litter on the way back so I swung by PetSmart and decided just to peek and see if they had any automatic litterboxes. They did. The particular one I chose is called the LitterMaid Elite Mega and cost around $150. I made sure before I purchased it that PetSmart had a generous return policy and was assured that as long as I returned it within 30 days with the receipt they would accept it – whether I didn’t like it or my cat didn’t like it or for whatever reason. I felt confident now. If I decided it wasn’t worth $150 (something I don’t like to spend lightly) I could return it.

Installation and Acclimation:

I took it home and began setting it up. The instructions where okay and it took about 30 minutes to assemble. Before I had even completed assembling it Hermione had jumped in and utilized it. This made me feel good about the acclimation factor. In fact, I had no problems with acclimation. Within an hour of setting it up both Hermione and Barclay had shifted to it as the new restroom and were even fascinated (if a bit scared) by the robotic arm.

Positive Features:

One of my favorite features was the Kabana covering. This comes only with the Mega model, though you can purchase it for their base model (and by the time you are done adding this onto the price you might as well buy the Mega model). This covering is reminiscent of a covered wagon canvas. It ensures that the cats enter and exit only through one way, and also prevents them from kicking litter onto the floor when they are covering up their business.

I also really liked the walk-in/out mat. There is a small ramp that is attached to the litter box. It has grooves in it and carpet padding to help the cats discard any loose litter before they reach your floor.

The robotic arm is of course “cool” as are the motion sensors. It feels high-tech, and relatively speaking $150 isn’t a bad price for all this technology. It also includes timing capabilities which allow you to tell it when you usually sleep and prevent it from running during those hours (except for a silent air freshener).

I also liked the fat that ideally you would never have to touch waste. The robotic arm would scoop it into the disposal container – which is disposable and after thirty days you would throw this container into the trash, insert a new one, and refill the litter.


Sadly, the positives on this machine are thus far far outweighed by the negatives, which are mainly two (very large) ones:

First and most concerning is the fact that the robotic arm does not appear to be have been designed correctly. It scoops the poop and pee fine for the first 90% but when it reaches the ramp that leads into the waste receptacle it lets a lot of the poop slide back into the main container and only succeeds in moving a very small portion into the actual waste container. Now I do have kittens (perhaps four months now) so there poop may be smaller than a full grown cats, but still, the robotic arm should move at an angle and always remain in contact with the bottom of the tray – which it does not.

Second is the fact that the waste receptacle does not close as I would like it. The robotic arm lifts the top off the waste receptacle to drop the waste in but when the receptacle lid closes it is simply because of gravity. This does not cause the lid to cut closely – and sometimes at all. This results in smells which would not be present if the lid was either mechanically or spring loaded.

A third and smaller issue is the litter. I found it to smell somewhat funky. Not bad, just funky. Almost like some sort of wheat. It also was not particularly non-dusty and while the unit does a good job of keeping the materials in the litter box I still would have preferred a less dusty substance.


LitterMaid while excellent in theory is flawed in execution. It has some really nice features and in a future revision is sure to be an excellent product, but as of this time I have to say that I plan on returning the unit after a little more testing. I will let you all know if any of my observations change.


If you believe I am somehow misusing the LitterMaid or have a different product recommendation, please let me know. Also, I would like to invite producers of automatic litterboxes to  write me with their feedback or in order to arrange a product test. I would like to write a series of articles on these automatic litterboxes and even if I find a satisfactory solution I am still willing to use myself and my cats as guinea pigs with these pieces of equipment.

Further Information:

If you are considering purchasing any model of automatic litterbox you may want to visit Automatic Litterbox Central, its a generally active community of individuals who own these units with reviews and discussion of the various units.

Followup Information:

Today I disassembled the LitterMaid Elite Mega. I’d known I was going to disassemble it since the day I wrote this review, but finally got around to it. The device started working a little better, but it still was missing anything smaller (not tiny, just smaller than large). It also filled up within a few days rather than the month I expected (or at least 15 days seeing I have two kittens).

Tomorrow I will probably stop by PetSmart and drop it off, then begin my search again for the perfect automatic litterbox. In the meantime its back to the old manual box.

I returned this device and haven’t looked back. I think it may work slightly better for full-grown cats with larger solid waste.

CatGenie – Automatic Litterbox?

UPDATE: Gave up on it. 😛

UPDATE: I’m fairly satisfied with my CatGenie now and can recommend it. Nora from CatGenie contacted me and sent out a new hopper and a new robotic arm. Another CSR sent me a replacement processing unit. With these new items in place, and after having corrected the issue that my plumber had hooked up the CatGenie to hot water instead of cold, and after switching to non-scented cleaning solution – everything is working amazingly. I spend around two minutes a day paying attention to the CatGenie – just enough to press the start cycle button.

Here are my revised requests for a future CatGenie:

  • Larger – Small/Medium cats have no problems…My “gentle giant” Barclay finds her behind sometimes hanging over the edge…Resulting in a mini-mess to cleanup.
  • Automatic Cycles – After a cat uses the bathroom it would be nice if it ran through at least a minimal clean cycle. Perhaps just scoop and flush the poor and rinse/dry with water.
  • Different Litter – Not sure what can be done about this but my cats track this litter all over. It seems to stick to their little paws.

Charity and I have three cats (Hermione, Barclay, and Piper) – and they are very precious to us. Unfortunately, they do not know how to use proper waste facilities (e.g. our bathrooms) and so we have the litter box issue. We’d love to let them go outside, but our house is surrounded by busy streets – so not such a great idea.

We started with traditional litter boxes – and that was okay. The poop scooping isn’t bad, the problem is the pee – eventually it saturates the litter and you have to change the entire box. Uck. We tried one of those automatic litterboxes that uses a robotic arm to move the poop into a small waste can – but this still didn’t solve the main issue – the urine!

Finally, it was time to pull out the big guns. We purchased a CatGenie from PetNovations. With taglines like, “Never touch, smell, or buy cat litter again” and “The only automatic cat box that flushes away waste and, like a cat, washes itself.” Wow. Now, I should note that I’m really the sucker for these automated toys – I was the one who bought the automatic shower cleaner (which didn’t work) and wants a Roomba (even though people tell me they are far from perfect) and who dreams of self-driving automobiles. Charity is not so easily drawn in – so the blame mainly rests on me for these new-fangled purchass.

Anyways, the CatGenie is a nifty idea. It hooks into your water and into your waste. You can have it dump directly into your toilet or into a laundry drain. We initially started with the toilet – but when we had our bathroom remodeled (it was a very cramped half bath, we expanded into a master bath) I had the designs include a small cubby hole with separate water and drainage that we could place the CatGenie into. Woohoo!

The CatGenie has a bowl and you fill it with these washable, litter-like granules. Your cat jumps into the bowl and does her business. Any urine moves down through the bowl (which has holes in it) into a holding tank (essentially a septic tank) while poop remains on the top. Occasionally you run the device and a robotic arm pops up, scooping out the poop and liquidating it with some heavy duty cleaner they have. It also sucks all the urine into the drain as well. It uses water to rinse the litter and basin so that there is no residual smell. Wow, amazing!

It is a great concept – and we’ve actually chucked our old litter boxes, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t have some major problems. Namely:

  • Size – The bowl is smaller than most single cat litter boxes. While Hermione and Piper have no difficulties, Barclay who is our “gentle giant” finds it a bit more difficult to utilize. The litter area could use about twice its current size.
  • Robotic Arm – The robotic arm is supposed to grab all the poop and scoop it up and then dump it down this shoot where the poop is liquidized. Unfortunately, it has this violent shaking process it utilizes to ensure the reusable litter doesn’t get disposed of as well and generally looks 25-50% of the poop it scoops.
  • Smell – And thus begins the smell issue.
  • Smell #1 – You essentially create a small sewer in the bottom of your CatGenie. This does not smell friendly – so don’t forget to run it regularly!
  • Smell #2 – I don’t know about you, but the heavy-duty cleaning agent they utilize drives me out of the entire upstairs of the house[1. I just ordered unscented cleaning agents.]
  • Smell #3 – Oohh…Poop stew. This is what you get when the robotic arm fails to grab all the poop and the CatGenie then begins washing the granules (and all the poop that was missed). The smell is not pleasant!
  • Smell #4 – Stir up poop! This is essentially what happens in the wash cycle…and the smell can be absolutely horrid!

In spite of its seemingly magical self-cleaning state (I was hoping for something like a human toilet’s self-maintenance) it has a tendency to clog (if you have long haired cats) and my processing unit just died, so until Monday or Tuesday it is back to the manual processes.

That said, it hasn’t gone onto the trash heap like the automatic shower cleaner. Instead, we’ll be getting a new processing unit (here’s hoping they’ve improved their routine a bit for cleaning), and I’ll probably start scooping the poop and dumping it down the toilet rather than letting it run through (the horrid smell you get is pooh, not urine generally). Finally, we use some Baking Soda-esque powder to occasionally dump onto the waste in-between cycles. It replaces the wretched smells with something rosy and beautiful.

If I didn’t have a CatGenie, would I buy one? Nahh…But since I have one I’m gonna use it. It’s good enough to use, but not good enough to buy.