Student-designed pill dispenser uses fingerprint scanner to avoid overdosing

The fingerprint-reading pill dispenser in use(Credit: Johns Hopkins University)

And you thought that regular pill bottles were hard to open ... a new overdose-proof medication dispenser developed by a team of mechanical engineering students at Johns Hopkins University can't be opened even with the help of a hammer or drill. It does, however, deliver the proper dosage at the proper time, as long as the patient uses its built-in fingerprint scanner.

The prototype device was designed mainly with painkillers in mind. Many people exceed the recommended dosage of such pharmaceuticals, risking both their immediate health and the chance of developing a long-term addiction. Additionally, narcotic painkillers like OxyContin are frequently acquired by prescription, but then sold for recreational use.

In the case of the Johns Hopkins dispenser, medication is added by the pharmacist via a lockable opening in the bottom – the pharmacist has a key to that opening, but the patient doesn't. At the same time that the container is filled, the patient's fingerprint is also scanned and matched to the device.

When they're subsequently supposed to take a pill, the patient holds their finger pad to the dispenser's scanner. As long as the print matches and the proper amount of time has elapsed since their previous dose, this causes a disc to rotate within the device, picking up a pill from a loaded cartridge and dropping it into an exit channel.

In its present form, the dispenser is made mainly from a "super-tough steel alloy," and can hold up to 60 tablets at once. The university is currently looking into developing and testing it further, with an eye on possible commercialization.

A student team at Brigham Young University previously developed a somewhat similar device, although it utilizes a timer and a combination lock instead of a fingerprint scanner.

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