Students' innovation the right prescription for success

Pill dispenser earns Walker Career Center a trip to Hannover Messe and solves a common problem by using automation


A creative and comprehensive approach to dispensing medicine took a team of high school students from Indianapolis to Hannover, Germany, this week. Students from Walker Career Center won Phoenix Contact's annual Nanoline Contest, which celebrates innovation by high school students.

The students built RoboDose, an automatic pill dispenser that can be programmed not just to deliver the right medication at the right time for a home-bound patient, but will alert caregivers and family members if the patient doesn't take the medication out of the dispenser.

Team members Brian Wyatt, Jon Owens, Emma Griffith, Jaidy Hernandez and Portia Jefferson, and advisor Jim Hanson traveled to Hannover to display their invention and participate in the TecToYou Pavilion at Hannover Messe, where they could interact with other high school students from around Germany.

"It's amazing the things all these people are doing," said Hernandez. "I love the TecToYou area. I wasn't expecting this many people, for it to be this big."

The students observed a common issue for their grandparents and others who need a secure way to remind them to take their medications on time. "At one point, even many of us will reach an age or time when we can no longer remember much in our lives, especially fine details," the students wrote in their online page discussing their project. "We designed this product for use by patients at hospitals, nursing homes, senior living facilities or even those elderly living independently at home."

Using Phoenix Contact's Nanoline controller and other sensors and equipment, the students designed a case that allows a patient or caregiver to fill containers with medication and program the system to dispense the right dose at specific times during the day. An RFID on the patient's wrist ensures that the right person gets access to the medication while also providing independence for the patient.

Developing RoboDose involved not just technology, but also problem-solving. For example, the students couldn't use real medication in testing the equipment, but they found candy or other sugar-based substitutes would degrade over time and through off the calculations. The students worked with a manufacturer to get them placebos that looked and acted like real medication, but without the medicine.

The project has received tremendous support within the school, and from partners like Walgreen's and Purdue University. Owens recalls going to Purdue for a tour and remembers seeing a room filled with projects much like the one they worked on. "It really got me excited about the future," Owens said.

Walker Career Center instructor Jim Hanson (right) and students Jaidy Hernandez and Jon Owners show off the RoboDose medication dispenser at the 2014 Hannover Messe in Germany. Courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE MediaThe future of manufacturing is all about students like these, and even with 300 students in the engineering track at Walker, Hanson knows more students are needed to meet future challenges. "Recruitment is the hardest part," said Hanson. "We've done a much better job in past years. It's not just about science and math; they're pieces in the puzzle. The students need the hands-on experience as well."

Hanson and teacher Chris Hurd from Cazenovia High School in Cazenovia, N.Y. have a Website, that promotes Computer Integrated Manufacturing. Hanson said the first step to grow interest among young people like his winning team from Walker Career Center is to change the way people view manufacturing, including parents and other educators.

"It's not the perception. It doesn't have to be. When the students get into robotics and automation, and use the talent they already have, they get to stand back and watch this thing they made come to life. They design something with 3D software, and now can hold it in their hands. They never realized that it was part of manufacturing."

- Learn more about RoboDose.

Plant Engineering will be providing daily coverage of the Hannover Messe conference at

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