Improving upon the pillbox

Aug. 06, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

While waiting for an experiment to incubate one day in a lab, Sanford native and North Carolina State University student Ashley Teal’s thoughts became inventive.

Literally.

“I’ve been taking care of my grandparents,” Teal said. “My mother and I have been taking shifts on trying to take care of them. They’re Depression-era grandparents, ages 89 and 94, so it’s really hard for them to keep up with their medicines.”

Now, she’s in the midst of an online contest that ends at 2 p.m. Thursday to get her solution, called the “Smart Nurse,” produced by a New York-based company called Quirky. The firm brings the inventions of “real people” into being — soliciting votes on its website to gauge the popularity of submissions.

So what is the “Smart Nurse?” It’s like an everyday matrix pillbox, but the device would only open the slot with the medicines needed at the appropriate time to take them and keeps the others locked.

“That way, you wouldn’t confuse your dates and times,” Teal said. “You can’t open a slot by mistake. The machine handles it for you. The big thing that sets it apart is that it has that locking mechanism that keeps everything else closed but only opens the slot for what you need at that moment.”

The device is designed with an alarm that would go off when its time to take a medication, which can be turned off only by a physical interaction with the machine. Caretakers also would be able to input medications’ names, doses and milligram amounts that would be displayed at the appropriate time.

It’s a little outside of Teal’s neuroscience major at N.C. State, but it hits home for her.

“For caretakers like myself and my mom who are from a younger generation taking care of someone from an older generation,” Teal said, “or even for people of all ages who just have an issue with confusing when to take medicines or forgetting, it’s just a really easy way to keep all that confusion at a minimum.”

To be a part of the contest, the invention had to undergo a rigorous vetting process by Quirky.

“They go through and they look for products that are the same thing as you’re trying to market,” she said, “and if they find it, they reject you and they cite your rejection.”

Teal’s invention passed that stage, and anyone can go on Quirky’s website to vote for the company to develop it. She said she’s already gotten a lot of support from professors at N.C. State and the N.C. School of Science and Math, where she spent her junior and senior years at high school.

To vote, one must go to the Quirky website, create a profile, click on the “Invent” button at the top of the page and then go to the “Health and Fitness” section. Teal’s invention is near the top of the page there. To vote for it, click on the thumbs up button on the right side of the page.

She said the “Smart Nurse” is a product that would be helpful for her now and would help others as well.

“I was like, ‘Gosh, there’s got to be an improvement on what they’ve already got,’” she said. “What I ended up coming up with was sort of an improvement on the even more improved matrix pillboxes.”

And she wants her hometown to know about it.

“I managed to get through the first half [of the contest],” she said. “I’ve been getting a lot of support from the NCSSM community, and then also the N.C. State community, but I wanted to rally the home team community a little bit and see if I could get a little help with it.”

Quirky’s website can be found at www.quirky.com.