New App Scans Recreational Drug Use

New potentially life-saving app allows for the recognition of recreational drugs as nightclubs looking to open this summer.

Pill-iD App

UK creative technology agency Rehab and French advertising agency Herezie have today announced the prototype for Pill-iD, an app that allows users to scan pills used in recreational drugs with a phone camera, giving them an instant identification of the pill, it’s likely dosage, risk-level and predicted side effects.

Users simply open the app and can either use their camera to take a photo of a pill, or upload an existing picture. The app’s machine learning model, tensorflow.js (a google technology) will then try to identify the drug by searching Nuit-Blanche, a database on different known narcotics in the European market, before showing the user a likely match. All user data is kept completely anonymous and is untraceable. The app strictly never encourages drug use, but simply educates on the known risks and information of each one. The aim of the project is to recognise the widespread usage of recreational drugs like MDMA and reduce harm – it was developed with the founding principle of hoping to save just one life.

The tech behind the app includes Python scripts integrating with existing APIs and datasets, compiling the available drug information and example images for each. A machine learning model is built and trained, using an image input to predict which drug type in the data set is a “high confidence” match. As the available drug database continues to increase, the accuracy of the prediction model increases and wider categories of drugs could be detected.

Drug Usage on the Rise

Class A drug-taking is at record levels in the UK – the ONS crime survey 2020 shows that around 1.3 million adults aged 16-59 took a class A drug last year. Contrary to beliefs, the rise isn’t just limited to young students, but also people working office jobs, parents, business owners – it’s people from all walks of life. As the roadmap out of lockdown is now known and people begin to anticipate festivals and nightclubs opening, the need for drug harm reduction has never been more urgent. Some relevant charities are worried that ‘pent-up’ energy could increase the amount people take.

Pill-iD currently exists as a working prototype, with the goal of being released by Winter 2021. It offers an exciting example of how machine learning and AI can be used to help people and even save lives.

The idea was born out of Herezie and made possible by Rehab’s ‘Hack Week’ programme, where the agency sets aside a week to find creative solutions to pertinent societal issues. Each ‘hack’ focuses on a topic the team feels passionately about and utilises Rehab’s diverse skills and expertise as creative technologists, using the same creative process that the business employs on its client work.

Rob Bennett, CEO of Rehab, commented: “The issue of recreational drugs and the need for harm reduction are a critical health problem across Europe, and we’re proud to have developed this app with Herezie. The topic is undoubtedly taboo for some, but our Hack Weeks all aim to address real, societal issues – which this very much is. Recreational drug use should not be encouraged, but using technology to help people absolutely should be. If we can save just one person’s life with this app, then we’ve done our job.”