How TikTok users designed a better pill bottle for people with Parkinson's
Athlete and advocate Jimmy Choi thrilled to see online community collaborate on initiative
Jimmy Choi usually uses social media to showcase his incredible feats of athleticism. But recently, he decided to post a video of a simple task that he struggles to execute — taking his Parkinson's medication.
"I wanted to show people that, you know, living with Parkinson's isn't all about breaking world records and doing push-ups and things like that," the Illinois athlete told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"But there is a struggle, an everyday struggle, that is real — things like getting a pill out of a pill bottle or tying my shoes or buttoning my shirt."
Choi's TikTok video, which shows his shaking hands trying to pluck a tiny pill from its bottle, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. And it inspired an online community of tinkerers and designers to work together on a 3D-printed solution — an accessible, Parkinson's-friendly pill bottle.
"It really is truly amazing to see how the community then jumped in. And folks that have no connection to Parkinson's decided, 'Hey, you know what? I have an idea. And here's the idea.' And then other folks jump in and say, 'Hey, I love your idea. I can help you with that,'" Choi said.
"And next thing you know, we've got a prototype within days."
It started when videographer Brian Alldridge saw Choi's video and decided to design a pill bottle that could better meet the athlete's needs.
With Alldridge's design, the user turns a knob at the base of the bottle to isolate a single pill, which they can then pop into their mouths straight from the bottle.
"I looked at the design and I'm like, this so simple and yet so groundbreaking," Choi said. "It was like a mind-blowing moment for me."
But Alldridge lacked a 3D printer to test out his idea. So he posted his design online and offered to share his files with anyone who wanted to improve upon it, print it and test it out. The response was overwhelming.
"It kind of blew me away. At first it was elation and then immediate dread because I didn't know if it actually worked yet," Allridge said.
"I wake up to a million views and thousands of people offering to print it and I'm like, 'Oh no, what if it doesn't work?'"
But it did work. And engineer David Exler took the design to the next level.
Exler, known online as Hungry Engineer, has been co-ordinating with Choi, sending him bottle prototypes to test and provide feedback so he can perfect it.
Exler is currently on his fifth version of Alldridge's original design and has offered to ship 50 of them, free of charge, to anyone who needs one in exchange for a $5 donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson's research.
Alldridge said on TikTok that he's working with a patent attorney to ensure his design remains open source — meaning anyone can tinker with it and make it better.
Alldridge said he hopes to set up some meetings with manufacturers soon about mass-producing it cheaply, with proceeds going to non-profit organizations.
"It has less plastic in it than your average McDonald's toy, and should be priced as such," he said.
Choi, meanwhile, said the bottle will help all sorts of people with Parkinson's as well as other issues, including multiple sclerosis and tremors.
"There's a lot of negativity out there, especially in the last several months," Choi said. "But people need to see the positive side that social media can be used for good things and for things that are helping and making an impact, not just on one person, two people, but we're talking thousands of people that this will have an impact on."
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Jimmy Choi produced by Sonya Varma.