Student develops idea for secure,
portable medication dispenser © Aug. 5, 2011, Norwich University Office of Communications

Computer security student Nicole Chrusciel has spent her summer working on a portable drug dispensing machine she hopes will help people better manage their medical treatment.

photo by Jennifer LangilleComputer security student Nicole Chrusciel has spent her summer working on a portable drug dispensing machine she hopes will help people better manage their medical treatment.

Seeing loved ones struggle to coordinate their prescription medications prompted Norwich University student Nicole Chrusciel to apply her interest in mechanical tinkering toward a helpful solution.

“My brother takes all kinds of medications and my parents are always on him about it. Also, my aunt is going through something serious and takes many medications,” said Chrusciel, a Class of 2014 Computer Security and Information Assurance major from New Britain, Conn. “I thought, what if there was a way to make this easier.”

The result was a project to design and build the RAPTAR-PPD [Remote Access, one-time Password, Tamper-Resistant Device for Portable Prescription Dispensing], a secure, portable device for delivering prescription drugs to patients. Norwich is helping her get started.

The machine would work something like this: A patient’s physician would send prescription information to a pharmacy using a program such as ePrescribe. The pharmacist would fill a cartridge that fits into the device with the medicine, input information about dosages, potential side effects and other concerns, and set a timer.

For security, RAPTAR-PPD would scan and remember the patient’s fingerprint information. When the timer goes off, his or her fingerprint must be scanned to confirm the identity. The patient would then input a password and the device would dispense the medication.

Chrusciel was inspired by two presentations about the security of implantable, nano-sized medical devices given by Jeremy Hansen, assistant professor of Computer Science and Information Assurance. She took her idea to Hansen, who was excited by the project and is acting as her advisor. Hansen said his wife’s reaction to the idea was telling.

“Usually, when I tell my wife stories related to research, she sits there patiently and smiles and says ‘That’s great, now stop talking to me about it,’” said Hansen. “She was much more excited by [Nicole’s idea] because it was something she could imagine holding and using.”

“I thought, if I can convince someone who is not a techie person that this is good idea, we might be on to something,” added Hansen.

With Hansen’s encouragement, Chrusciel applied for, and received, a summer research fellowship that enables her to remain on campus for 10 weeks while getting paid, working alongside other students who have taken on a variety of research projects.

To begin her research, she consulted with pharmaceutical industry professionals [including pharmacists in Vermont and Connecticut] about how easily the proposed dispenser might be implemented and marketed.

“They’re all being really nice about it,” said Chrusiciel. “They’re offering advice such as, ‘Maybe you should try this,’ or ‘try marketing to this age group as opposed to that one.’”

To tackle the software and programming the dispenser will need, Chrusciel is using an Italian-based website called Arduino. This is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. She’s also consulting books on invention such as 30 Arduino Projects for the Evil Genius.

Chrusciel, like all NU students with summer research fellowships, is expected to turn in a formal paper at the end of the summer to the Office of Academic Research. She hopes to complete a working prototype of the dispenser in the near future.

Chrusciel’s interest in inventing was sparked in middle school, when she often used Lego Mindstorms, a line of programmable robotics and construction toys, as well as a state pre-engineering program for middle-school students in Connecticut. She plans to keep working out the project for the remainder of her time at Norwich, and is pursuing a patent. Chrusciel’s career plans will take her in a different direction, however. A member of Norwich’s Corps of Cadets, she will serve in the U.S. Army, hopefully in support of intelligence.

“I love the show ‘NCIS’ and that whole thing that Abby and McGee do,” she said, referring to two characters who work in forensics on the television series. “I have always found what they do very interesting.”