NIH seeks app to recognize pills

A new RFI is part of the preparations for a Pill Image Recognition Challenge.

Shutterstock image (by Syda Productions): a singular pill being held by someone's hand.

(Image: Syda Productions / Shutterstock)

WHAT: A tool to help consumers recognize pills, backed by the National Institutes of Health.

WHY: Ever look at a prescription pill and wonder what it is? The National Institutes of Health wants to connect the pill-popping public with a visual database of drugs via a smartphone driven application. Users can snap a picture of a pill and the app will identify the medicine.

NIH maintains a visual database called RxIMAGE with pictures of the front and back of more than 3,000 pharmaceuticals. In a request for information, NIH is asking respondents to develop software and algorithms for matching pictures taken by the public with images in the database. To facilitate this work, NIH is supplying a visual database of images of pills taken under inconsistent lighting conditions with a variety of digital cameras, to simulate what photos taken by the public might look like. The output of the matching software should be a set of images from RxIMAGE that most closely resemble the consumer images. The idea is that a user could then select the image that is the most spot-on match.

The RFI is part of the NIH's preparations for a Pill Image Recognition Challenge to be issued under the auspices of Challenge.gov. NIH wants to use the RFI as way of honing in on the standards and metrics it will use to judge the challenge. From the standpoint of entrants, those who respond to the RFI will become familiar with the submission process, learn if their entry was put together correctly, and will have a chance to test the algorithms and software against the two sets of images.

Image files are now available through an NIH website. Submissions are due April 27. There's no word yet on when the challenge is going live.

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