Students Create App to Improve Success of Birth Control Pill Regimens

A team of NCSU engineering students, including two from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, tackled the problem of how to help ensure daily compliance of a birth control pill regimen with a project called PurpleSticker.

A team of NCSU engineering students, including two from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, tackled the problem of how to help ensure daily compliance of a birth control pill regimen with a project called PurpleSticker.

Keeping in mind social stigmas of women who use birth control, especially in public, PurpleSticker uses a sticker attached to the medication blister packaging and a smartphone app to remind women to take their medication.

“Essentially what it is is a sticker that goes on the back of a birth control package and every time a pill is removed it breaks the circuit and changes the state of that sticker so that your phone can detect that change in state and it detects whether or not you’ve taken a pill,” said Morgan Elizabeth Kaman, one of four students involved in the project. “If you haven’t taken a pill it will continue to remind you until you take it.”

Kaman and fellow engineering students Mattia Muller, Kyle Vey and Josh Giron developed the PurpleSticker concept as part of their senior design requirements.

Engineering students, from left, Josh Giron, Morgan Kaman, Mattia Muller and Kyle Vey created a discreet way to help women remember to take their birth control pill.In the spring semester, the team took their concept to the Lulu eGames, NC State’s annual startup competition that celebrates student innovation and entrepreneurship. At the competition, students compete across four categories: the New Venture Challenge, the Verizon Student Innovator Challenge, the arts Feasibility Study Challenge and the Design and Prototype Challenge.

“Three out of the four team members were from other countries (Switzerland, Canada, Honduras),” said Giron. “It was like launching a business while working part time, finishing school, and doing the research and development. There were many times where we felt it was an almost insurmountable task with everything else going on in our lives. Yet, the best part was how well we all worked together to accomplish this lofty goal.”

After conducting a survey on birth control issues with more than 170 respondents, the team discovered that most women complained about the need to take the pill every day and that for some, it was incredibly embarrassing to do so.

From there, the team created three different prototypes, each improving on the previous model. The first prototype was bulky and was mainly used to understand how Near Field Communication (NFC) technology works and how to make the phone communicate with the device. The second prototype focused on transferring information about the pill state and was the one used for the competition. A third and final prototype was made focusing on making the whole device smaller.

“There were quite a few issues because NFC is such a new technology that there are not many resources available,” says Muller. “So we kind of had to come up with most of it completely by ourselves.”

Despite these issues, the team applied to different areas of the competition and was able to successfully win third place in the New Venture Challenge, the business plan round.

“So our business plan we actually developed through our class in stages and then submitted that and then we had a 20-minute presentation with a panel of judges,” Vey said. “Basically, presenting our business plan and then grilling us on it and giving us recommendations, which turned out to be more of a conversation with the judges really because I think they liked our idea.”

As for the future of this project, the team isn’t quite sure if they want to continue working on it, but have taken steps to have the technology patented and have considered talking to companies in order to have it commercialized.

“We had an investor that was extremely interested; he paid for a patent search,” Muller said. “What came out of it was good and bad at the same time. We can patent our technology, but it will not be a very broad patent.”

Muller went on to say, “NC State provides us great resources to create prototypes, and incredible mentors. It is still up to us to set what we want in motion.”

Three members of the team graduated in spring 2015, and Muller expects to graduate in fall 2015. Muller is a computer and electrical engineering double major who plans to pursue a master’s in computer engineering and wants to continue creating and designing hardware. Kaman, a chemical engineering graduate, plans on working for CRB and hopes to one day start a company devoted to STEM education. Vey, a biomedical and mechanical engineering graduate, plans to wait a few years before going for his MBA and wants to work in consulting and master software skills that will allow him to start a software company devoted to biomechanics. Giron, a computer and electrical engineering graduate who has had previous experience with starting a business, believes that owning a startup or small business is one of the greatest decisions an individual can make, as long as it is something the person is passionate about.


Source: Adapted from NC State College of Engineering news article entitled, “Student team creates product to improve efficacy of birth control pills.”

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