Science Blast! Child Detecting Caps–will they finally keep out kids, instead of adults?

 Smart Pill Bottle Caps to Protect Curious Kids

Researchers develop an intelligent pill bottle that can sense a child’s touch with high accuracy


There’s no shelf too high or a bottle too tight that can kill a child’s curiosity. For all the cushioned furniture corners and safety gates that parents install to child-proof their homes, the safe storage of medicines out of a child’s sight and reach is grossly neglected. According to a recent report by Safe Kids Worldwide, every 12 days, a child under age six in the United States dies from an accidental medicine-related poisoning. Every hour, a child is hospitalized for that same reason, and every nine minutes, a child goes to the emergency room. This, despite the increasing use of child-resistant packaging by manufacturers of pill bottles.

Emil Jovanov and his team have designed a “safe pill bottle” equipped with sensors that can identify when a child is trying to open the bottle. With further design, it would even be able to flash warnings to deter them from doing so, as well as notify parents or guardians. This pill bottle, which imbibes the spirit of Internet of Things and makes innovative use of capacitive sensing technology, could distinguish between the touch of a child and an adult with 96.4% accuracy over 474 bottle-opening exercises.

The scientists affixed capacitive sensors around a pill bottle, and embedded a microcontroller (a tiny computer) in the pill bottle to record and process the signals generated by touch. Capacitive sensors are made up of capacitors. The charge stored in a capacitor creates a small electric field around the capacitor. When a finger comes in the region of this electric field, it disrupts the field by drawing a small amount of charge away from the capacitor, which changes the capacitance of the capacitor. This is the basic principle of capacitive sensing technology, which is used widely in touchscreen devices and for gesture recognition applications. Because children’s hands are smaller, their fingers would touch fewer sensors when gripping the bottle, causing a lesser change in capacitance than that caused by an adult. Thus, the touch patterns generated by a child would be different from that of an adult; this is the underlying principle behind the safe pill bottle developed by the researchers.

Eight adults (over 20 years) and eight children (aged 5–10 years) were asked to open and shut the bottle many times, to recreate the action of taking a pill out of the bottle. …

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