Hero…the pill dispensing robot. Indispensable or unnecessary? Robotics & AI analyses.
I recently went out for dinner with a Doctor cousin who had come to visit me in the US. Over an elaborate meal we shared stories about the rest of the family back home, and which of the elders was suffering from what ailment. We joked about how one of our aunts was on so many prescription drugs that she didn’t really need to consume any other food to survive. After the meal, my cousin pulled out a glittery pink little box that I assumed was her makeup kit. It turned out to be a medicine boxes with seven little labeled compartments that held her weekly medication. I raised my eyebrow and gave her my best “Seriously?” look and she just shrugged. “It is impossible to keep track of what I am supposed to take and when” she said…adding that this was a dilemma faced by others too.
I had forgotten about this little exchange until I came across the launch of ‘Hero’ the pill-dispensing robot in Texas. Brooklyn based startup Hero, who are the creators of this robot believe that their smart appliance solves a rather big problem. It is reported that roughly 70% of all Americans take at least one prescription medicine. In 2009, 4.6 million drug related emergency room visits were reported by the National Institute of Drug abuse; half of them being attributed to pharmaceuticals. The makers believe that they have pioneered a solution that will make drug dispensing secure and manageable. So is there a case for Hero the pill-dispensing robot after all?
The first of such appliances to hit the market, Hero looks like a coffee maker and plugs into a standard wall outlet. A small LCD panel in the front of the device can be used to enter your name and the medications you wish to add and the intake schedule. You can load multiple users and medication specific to each user onto the robot. Once you load this information, the robot lets you put in your pills in 10 plastic containers inside the appliance. (That’s how many pills it can hold per user at a time.) A companion app is provided along with the robot and the machine alerts you when you are due to take your medication. However the user has to hit the ‘enter’ button for it to dispense your medicine… which is fair enough because you don’t obviously want the robot to dispense a pill automatically and not remember to take it. The companion app keeps track of the vitamin and prescription intake for family members over time and also if the pills are running out so you are never out of emergency drugs.
I can see the case for a pill dispensing robot after all. Of course, the product is not without its limitations. The prototype lacks a ready database of drugs pre fed into its memory, so a user has to physically key in each and every prescription. It would have been ideal to have an auto prompt. Also 10 containers may not be big enough to meet the needs of a big family (such the big extended family that my cousin and I were discussing over dinner). Finally its not a portable device (it weighs 10 pounds and is not necessarily handy) so its utility is limited if a user is travelling. Hopefully the next versions of the product will address these problems and make the Hero a real hero to those of us grappling to manage our medications. (Hero is expected to hit the stores in summer this year and is expected to come with a price tag of $399.)