Americans are not very good at taking their medicine. Roughly half of prescriptions are followed improperly, which can lead to serious health problems. Pillo Health, a Boston technology startup, thinks it has a solution: A round-faced little in-home robot that can dispense your medication, remind you to take it, and alert your caregiver if you forget. The idea came after two of its founders had family members suffer complications after failing to take medications as instructed.
“We thought to ourselves, What can we do to make this situation better?” says cofounder and chief operating officer James Wyman, a former investment banker. “Not everybody can afford a stay-at-home nurse or home care, so how do we leverage technology to replicate someone who could be in the home 24 hours a day with our loved ones?”
Wyman, serial entrepreneur Emanuele Musini, and physician Aiden Feng came up with Pillo Healthcare Assistant, a robot managed via an app to securely store and dispense medication for one person (that person or a caregiver has to load the bot). It has Alexa-like elements — it will tell you the weather, or answer wellness-related questions. Its 28 bins each hold multiple pills, with doses dispensed into a cup set below its friendly touchscreen face. It gives a verbal reminder that the medicine is ready. Built-in facial recognition and motion detection let it know if the medication was picked up, and by the right person. If not, it can send an alert to a caregiver.
Pillo has raised about $7 million since its founding in 2015 , from investors including Stanley Black & Decker and Hackensack Meridian Health system.
Pillo sold out its first production run earlier this year. Coming in April to retail stores is Pria by Black+Decker, developed with Stanley Black & Decker’s health products division. It will sell for $499, plus $39.99 per month to access its services (the price does not include medication). Separately, the company is working with Hackensack Meridian Health to distribute Pillo-branded devices to patients.
Pillo is part of a growing push by the tech industry to deliver health care remotely. Products range from sophisticated robots that serve as companions for seniors to basic services delivered through smart speakers such as those made by Amazon, Apple, and Google. Pillo’s device falls somewhere in between.
Amazon could be a formidable competitor; last year, it bought PillPack, the Somerville online pharmacy whose innovative packaging simplifies complex medication regimens. Wyman, though, expects Pillo will be attractive to health care organizations, insurers, and other industry players as they adopt voice technology.
For one thing, Pillo complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a crucial patient privacy law governing health information, which is not yet true for popular smart speaker makers. And the Pillo Healthcare Assistant actually dispenses pills. The robot can’t help the medicine go down with a song, but it does stream NPR. And Mary Poppins beware — the company says it is developing a version that plays music.
Pria by the numbers
■ Price: $499 + $39.99 a month
■ Size: 12.5 inches tall by 7.8 inches wide; 4.9 pounds
■ Specs: 28 separate pill containers; 13-megapixel camera; 7-inch touchscreen; Wi-Fi connectivity