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Tamagotchi-Like Device Could Help Kids Remember To Take Their Medicine

Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
The prototype of pill dispenser that helps pediatric patients take medication on time by making the task a game.

A team of University of Pittsburgh undergraduate students has designed a special pill dispenser that helps kids take their medication on time, by making the task a game.

The dispenser was created as part of a hackathonfor pediatric medicine hosted by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation at Carnegie Mellon University. It sort of looks like one of the bulky 1980s cell phones, but with a touch screen interface.

Team member Jay Maier, a mechanical engineering major, said a mass-produced version would be much smaller.

“You could easily make this the size of a Tamagotchi, right? Or a tic-tac box,” he said.

Tamagotchi are digital pets and were a popular toy in the late 1990s and 2000s. Egg-shaped and brightly colored, they're about the size of a keychain ornament with a simple screen and a few buttons.

A Tamagotchi chirps periodically to remind its owner to feed it, take it on walks or play with it. Maier and his teammates, Kaylene Stocking and Andrew Lobos, imitated the toy’s neediness.

“It’s basically Tamagotchi but at some point your next task is to take your pill, and it reminds you of that and it spits out a pill, the place that holds the pills lights up,” said Maier. “Then the kid can take out the pill. And then it registers that you’ve opened the door, and then you get a you get an award in the game.”

The team figured that remembering to take medication can be annoying and possibly even embarrassing for kids, so they wanted something that piques kids’ curiosity.

“The way we thought we could handle that was to play off the idea that smart phones are so popular [with kids],” said Stocking, who is double majoring in both computer and bioengineering.  She said that was why they chose to build something with a touch screen that felt like a game.

The pill dispenser didn’t place in the hackathon, which was judged by a panel of pediatric medicine and technology professionals. But it was awarded the kids choice award.

"I thought it was a really unique idea," said 12-year-old judge Lance Hupkovich of Plum. "I definitely would [use it.]"

90.5 WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia/ Tomasz Sienicki)  

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.