The Vitality GlowCap concept's been floating about for years now, but it still slightly blows our minds -- you stick a tiny, battery-powered wireless computer on top of your pill bottle, which reminds you to take your medicine on time. Well, it turns out they aren't exactly a concept these days, as you can buy one for $10 with a $15 monthly plan, and we've actually spent the past month living with the chirping, glowing, AT&T-connected device, keeping a journal all the while. After the break, find out what a life-saving nag feels like.
Note: Amazon's actually out of stock at the time of this writing, but Vitality says a new shipment should arrive tomorrow.
Day 1: Ripping open a courier package, we pulled out the box -- blue, simple, and filled with foam and cardboard. Inside, we found four things -- a rather curious pill bottle (the "GlowCap"), a large, antenna-packing wall wart (the "Night Light"), a sticky label for the bottle, and a Terms and Conditions paper. Tapping and probing the devices for a bit, we found them to be made almost entirely of hard, sterile white plastic, and without any visible controls -- the Night Light has a black antenna, and the GlowCap only an LED and three speaker holes. There were no instructions to be found, so we simply stuck the Night Light into an outlet, where it immediately let off a pleasant blue glow, and starting cycling through LEDs representing the days of the week. Turning our attention to the GlowCap, we gently unscrewed it from its transparent bottle, filled it with multivitamins and set it down on our bathroom counter, where we told ourselves we'd soon return to figure it out... but promptly forgot about it.
Day 2: Woken suddenly by an unfamiliar sound, we sat up in bed. Nothing. We closed our eyes, and lay down again. Roughly five minutes later, we heard a pair of chirping noises -- and again every five minutes after that. Two sets of five friendly tones came from the direction of our bathroom door, high-pitched enough that we couldn't tone them out, nor drown them with a blanket over our head. Begrudgingly, we hopped out of bed. Opening the bathroom door (and noticing that the Night Light had turned orange) we grabbed the GlowCap, and -- forgetting the bottle had a child lock -- twisted the neck both directions to try to open it. The chirping stopped, but the cap didn't come off. Then, the Night Light beeped and lit up blue to confirm that we'd taken our medicine -- even though we actually hadn't done so. Amusingly, we received an email the next morning with our weekly compliance report, praising us for swallowing our meds two days in a row.
Day 3: Our significant other woke us up, with the following news -- there was something in the bathroom that was glowing, and they didn't know what it was. Sure enough, both the Night Light and the GlowCap were lit up orange, pulsing and blinking respectively, so we grabbed it, opened it up, took a vitamin, and closed the bottle. The Night Light chirped to acknowledge our feat. We left the GlowCap on our desk and didn't hear from it till the following day.
Day 4: Having woken early than usual and already started work, we noticed the GlowCap light up. We put it off. It began chirping about 30 minutes later. Five seconds later, just before we were about to put the first chirp out of our mind, it chirped again. So we took one.
Day 5: We decided to sleep in this morning to test the GlowCap's routine. The longer we waited, though, the longer the chirping, and the more annoying. We stuck the GlowCap in a drawer, but the melodies managed to pierce through, and we finally took a vitamin to quiet it down.
Day 6: We slept in once more, determined to find out what the GlowCap would do if we didn't take activate it at all, and we found that the five tones grew to nine by 45 minutes into the hour, and then stopped completely 15 minutes after that. All of a sudden, our phone started ringing -- Vitality's automated service calling with a reminder to take our medicine! We didn't, curious at what might happen if we continued to wait, but nothing out of the ordinary occurred -- though we noticed that the Night Light continued to bathe our bathroom outlet for the rest of the day in an orange-reddish glow.
Day 7: We were so busy writing posts and answering email that we had no wish to deal with either our vitamin or the GlowCap's sound, so we quickly twisted the pill bottle's neck open and closed to dismiss the alert without taking our pill. We felt guilty for a moment, but we had work to do.
Day 8: Remembering our failure to take our vitamin the previous day, we opened up the bottle at its first chime and took one right away. Then, remembering our duty to actually test the GlowCap's versatility, we wrapped it up in a blanket, and stuck it in the depths of a bathroom cabinet behind a wall of towels.
Day 9: Sure enough, the GlowCap didn't wake us up, and we were working (and busy) by the time we got an automated phone call, and ignored the voicemail as well. Still, when we visited the bathroom again in the evening, we saw the Night Light's pulsing red glow, extricated the GlowCap from the cabinet and took our pill.
Day 20-something: With the small vitamin supply dwindling, we decided to try something new -- we pressed the button on the inside of the cap, and waited for the device to reach out, calling Vitality and then connecting the call to our cell phone. Since we were working with a test unit, we only reached Vitality's public relations team, but with the real deal, we'd be put through to a support group who'd allow us to change our times and dosages, or even to the pharmacy directly. There's also apparently a web portal for certain medical groups. We also tried unplugging the Night Light, and were pleased to find that the GlowCap itself still chimed on time, though it presumably didn't update the Vitality databases with our compliance without any base station to send the message.
After day nine, we mostly stopped creatively testing the GlowCap and merely used it as seemed best, and naturally fell into a pattern where it woke us up after two or three sets of chimes and we subsequently either took or -- with a twist of the wrist -- cheated our way out of our meds. In fact, it was such a fantastic alarm clock -- with a five-minute auto-snooze function, of sorts -- that by the end of the month, our formerly haphazard sleep patterns had become quite regular, and we started dreaming nearly every night (which, at the time we started testing, we hadn't done in months).
Obviously, your mileage will vary, especially if you set the GlowCap (via telephone conversation) to take one or more pills at different times of day, but we have to admire the thought process behind the GlowCap's comprehensive reminder system. As you might note, it's not a foolproof solution for actually making sure the pills are swallowed -- we'd love if the bottle could measure its own contents, at the very least -- but during the time we used it, there was not a single day when we were able to forget about the existence of pills that we were obligated to take, and we haven't been able to say the same since. The very week we stopped, our vitamins were all but forgotten, despite leaving a large bottle on the counter where we brush our teeth, and we've since reverted to being sleepless, gadget-loving beasts.
We'll end with a word on pricing here, and that's to admit that $15 a month isn't cheap for some. Of course, if you or your loved one have important medicine, are willing to take it but too scatterbrained to remember when, it could be a small price to pay. That said, we spoke to Vitality CEO David Rose, and he told us that optimally the end-user won't have to drop the bucks at all -- it's in the insurance company and pharmaceutical company's best interests to see folks swallowing those pills, and in some cases they're willing to foot the bill. If that sounds like your ticket, you could always ask your doctor or hit our source link to fill out a quick form, which will hopefully direct Vitality towards the populaces it can best serve.
Update: Vitality says the GlowCap's battery lasts 6 to 9 months on average, after which you can replace it by hand -- it's a standard CR2477T cell.