Software apps and online services
Hand tools and fabrication machines
I don't think a lot of people really think about menopause. It's something that many women struggle but it has remained more or less unaided by technology until recent years. If you have someone close to you who struggles with the related issues of menopause, I'm sure you understand the effect it can have on everyday life - as well as amplifying other ailments. Before I begin trying to find a solution, let's identify some key symptoms and effects of menopause.
Menopause can cause a wide range of problems such as dehydration, skin irritation, irregular temperature issues (hot flushes/sweating), memory loss/issues, headaches etc...
These problems can come randomly and aren't readily treatable, but perhaps there are ways that technology can make these problems less intrusive on everyday life and reduce their effects.
I want to focus on a few major issues. Memory problems, temperature irregularity and hydration.
Right away, some of these problems seem applicable to a computer-based solution, but others become more difficult. Menopause can cause problems remembering to do things like taking vitamins, pills and supplements (all ways of helping treat symptoms of menopause). Now, we already have our phones, tablets and computers which can be used to set reminders in diaries, notes and calendar apps, so this is something that should definitely be incorporated into my project as it's been proven useful for years. Moreover, it could be the main focus of my project, and build other features from it.
Note: I understand the need for non-invasive solutions '(NOTE: non-invasive means that we do not want hormone replacement or vitamin/nutritional supplements).' but as many women already take medication etc... to help with symptoms, I thought it made sense to try to help with this. (via reminders for medication, not necessarily supplements or vitamins)
Menopause can cause hot flushes and the inability to control body temperature - and this can come at random times which makes life a little more difficult as you are always planning time around these problems. If the device could sense or give the user a warning that they seem to be getting hot, it would allow the person time to try to reduce these hot flushes before they get worse (cold flannel, turning down the thermostat, etc). It could even turn down the house's smart-thermostat for them!
Making sure they are hydrated is something that seems less solvable. A water cooler that gives you water when you need it (and the right amount) would be a little cumbersome and hard to have in the persons home, so a physical distribution of water might not be applicable. However, a less intrusive form of this could be via monitoring and reminding them that they should drink some water (time-based reminders).
Now we've got an idea of what we want to solve, I have a good understanding of what sort of device this needs to be. It needs to be computer-based (with a screen) that can remind the person of various things, take in temperature data as well as adjust third party devices like digital thermostats or water systems.
One of the key features should be managing reminders and monitoring the person so it should be active in the home. My initial idea was just a simple tablet screen but then I decided that to make it more suitable for the home, I could disguise the device inside a mirror (Smart mirrors are devices which use semi-reflective acrylic mirrors, like a 2-way mirror, to display data behind the mirror and it shines through).
I began my project with a Raspberry pi, a picture frame, and a mini tv screen. Firstly, I wanted to make the display thin enough to fit inside a picture frame (behind the mirror) therefore, I had to get rid of all the plastic housing and buttons so that all I had was the LCD panel and the video-audio control board.
This was much thinner (about 8mm). This allowed for me to now mount it on a board - the board being the back of the picture frame. I also hooked up the rip and mounted it below it.
The display was actually too thin now! Meaning it didn't sit up against the mirror so it was unclear. I designed a small spacing bracket in Fusion 360 and 3d printed two of them. This allowed for the display to be raised about 15mm, making it press comfortably against the mirror.
The result was quite good!
Now you can really see how well the display works, and how the mirror seems completely regular and still functions as it should. However, the display only covers about 40% of the mirror's surface, consequently, it means that you can't show much information. I could tell that it would be a problem when it came to displaying things like calendars and other information - I wanted the display to be large and clear enough so that the user can read it at a glance, from across the room, without needing to walk right up to it - or put on glasses!
I attempted to fix this problem using an old laptop screen, which was much larger and would cover the whole mirror. I removed the screen from the laptop and because I couldn't get the right video control board online (also I doubt it would have arrived in time due to the current circumstances), I tried to use the circuit board from the smaller 7-inch display. This was a bad idea. I ended up breaking it, which left me in a far worse position than before!
As a result of this, I had to sacrifice my second monitor from my computer. This display was closer to 22 inches than 7! Consequently, I had to scale up everything else. The picture frame was replaced with a larger one (approx 25 inches). Then another issue arose. I couldn't find a larger acrylic mirror sheet to fit the new scaled-up version. This resulted in a rather crude white boarder for the smaller - A4 sized sheet I already had.
In order to position the mirror in the centre of the frame, I modelled a corner bracket in Fusion 360 then printed 4 of them. (All CAD files can be found in the GitHub repository- which is linked!)
The next photos (slideshow) show the process of constructing the new display setup.
It was now time to figure out how to mount the monitor to the edges of the frame. I place the monitor how I wanted and then began figuring out the possible mounting areas. My monitor had two sets of mounting holes (one for a desk stand, at the bottom centre and another set of 4 holes in the middle for mounting it to a wall).
I decide to use the holes to create brackets that would extend to the perimeter of the picture frame where it could be screwed in. I also wanted to make something to go in each corner of the tv so it couldn't move around. So, I took some measurements with a digital calliper and then got to work in Fusion 360 once again.
I came up with a square - z shape bracket for the bottom of the monitor and then two curved arms/braces which stretch from the wall mounting holes up to the top of the frame. I also modelled and printed 4 corner brackets which can be screw against each corner of the monitor to keep it snug on the mirror/frame
The curved top braces worked really well because they are curved and therefore had spring-like properties. When screwed into the frame, that constantforce keeps it constantly pressed up to the mirror!
Now that it wall all beginning to take shape, I needed to consider how I would mount the Raspberry Pi, controls and sensor to the back as well. I decided to utilize the threaded holes already on the back to hold a mounting plate which the RPi could be screw onto along with other parts.
Yet again, I hoped into Fusion 360 and came up with a mounting plate design so I printed it and fitted it onto the back!
I decided to take a break from the physical construction and begin looking into coding a demonstration program to give you the idea of what this mirror could be and it's potential. For this project, I will be coding in Python. It's simple and will be good enough for this prototype.
I started by asking myself how the user could control the mirror, I decided that a set of buttons would be the simplest solution for this prototype. In the future, I would like to implement Alexa or Google voice controls. This would allow for hands-free control and is much more intuitive than buttons. Also, voice technology is becoming very commonplace in houses and smart tech, so this would not be a difficult device to use or understand as it would operate off the same commands/features.
You can find this code in the GitHub linked, this is v1 of the code (app_sandbox).
After success with this (I know it's not complicated but usually, I don't have very good luck!) I then scaled up to 4 buttons. I laid them out and set up a test wiring to make certain it all works as it should.
You can find the final wiring diagram in both this project page and in the GitHub repository (RPi circuit diagram.JPG).
Now that I knew everything was working great, I committed to the setup and soldered all the switches up.
Notice the orange wire carries the 3v(pin01) current all through the switches, The bottom coloured wires all go back to their respective pins (10, 12, 16, 18) These pins are what the RPi will use to register specific button presses as it will receive current from that wire. In python, this is defined through '.HIGH' and '.LOW' values. All of this is clear in the python files in the GitHub repository.
I needed a way to house these buttons on the mirror. It was Fusion 360 time again! I designed and printed a small box with slots for each switch and screw tabs on either side which would allow it to be fixed to the edge of the frame.
After that, I then added the temperature sensor to the RPi. I connected it in a similar way to the buttons, except you have to register the temp sensor in the terminal to get one-wire interface. This is very simple (you can find it with a quick google).
With everything connected up, I carried on coding the GUI demo. This involved using python's Tkinter module to make a black window cover te screen and white text (time/date) appear on the screen. Setting everything to black allows for maximum reflectiveness so it is still easily usable as a mirror! You can find this in the second version of the main python script in the Github repository.
This final code is in the repository, like everything else.
Here are some notes before I show you the test demo.
This is a prototype; it's very far from perfect - even further from perfect because I couldn't get a lot of parts due to the pandemic slowing down delivery times and reducing stocks. However, I've been seeing it as an extra challenge! It's certainly made me have to think outside the box with more limited supplies.
On the whole, I think it's a good functional prototype. I had my mother sit down with me so I could show it to her because she is someone who would benefit from this device and it's symptom managing/reduction. I apologise for my lengthy ramblings in the video, I'm not that great at explaining certain ideas and features! Never the less, it works. But, there is a lot I'd like to add in the future - but I'll get to that...
Although the prototype worked, it's not complete nor is it what I wanted for the final demo. There are some features which I wanted to incorporate like voice controls (via google) but I simply ran out of time. I was able to make a demo of what it could be using my phone as a companion to the mirror, but in future versions, I'd like the mirror to be more self-sufficient. Using its own built-in google voice system, accessing the google API more effectively and a proper GUI where you can more easily navigate from things like the weather, calendar and reminders as well as other monitoring features (like temp and hydration). I also want to move toward a more user-controlled system. The user shouldn't feel they're being told what to do but advised. Which is why I'd rather build hydration advice and reminders into the mirror and not any real water or pill dispensary system. The AARP Menopause project is about putting those with menopause in control, and this version of the mirror reflects that very well.
In order to advise and remind users of water consumption, It has to be monitored first. To do so, the GUI should feature an option to log if the drink some water. This would allow the mirror to tell the person if they need to drink some water to help keep symptoms reduced.
As a device, the mirror itself is also very minimal and can suit any environment. This prototype is much larger than it needs to be. As shown in the previous versions of the prototype, it can be far thinner and therefore could be slipped into any kind of mirror.
The prototype also has built-in speakers, so it could also play music or ambient noise to help users sleep. This is fairly common, the mirror would make it even easier though! Sleep is very important for mental health, and menopause could amplify that issue - so being able to sleep well would be very beneficial.
Thanks to voice-enabled controls, controlling the mirrors settings reminders or even changing the temperature via the thermostat to help reduce hot flushes! I'd like to test out adding thermostat functionality in the future version as I think that is something that could really make a difference in reducing hot flushes
(An oncoming hot flush could also be detected via a camera in the mirror. A camera which detects changes in facial colour would work well - this is something I have experimented with in the past using the PixyCam2 to detect colour variations)
In conclusion, I think this device has a lot of potential! And given some more time and iterative design, it could be really helpful to menopausal women. Having something which blends into the home, and is easy to use with the ability to help control symptoms would allow women to stop having to think about these symptoms and the effects on their lives. Wristwatches, smartphone apps and smart thermometers are good - but they don't allow for a way to really manage and understand symptoms. Tracking when your getting flushes or feeling dehydrated could allow for identifying trends in symptoms or finding ways to reduce these symptoms through diet or other means.
Thanks to A.A.R.P. and Hackster.io for putting on this contest, it's been really interesting and challenging. In the contest description, it talks about how menopause feels like a taboo subject but it's finally beginning to be recognised and understood by people other than those who have to deal with it. As an 18-year-old boy, I feel like I know a lot more about this issue than a lot of people like me! It's helped me appreciate women (like my own mother) who have to go through these issues, and I hope this contest helps perpetuate that throughout the other submissions and future devices as a result of this.
Thanks again, it's been great!