Not everyone who goes to Vegas comes home a winner, but first-year Southwestern student Cameron Henkel had a once-in-a-lifetime experience he won’t soon forget. Cameron recently returned from the CES Conference in Vegas, where he exhibited his award-winning design for a Smart Medication Dispenser.

Cameron was the grand prize winner of Z-Wave Smart Home Maker Challenge, a national competition sponsored by Sigma Designs in partnership with Make (producer of Maker Faire events). He won the trip to the conference, along with the opportunity to exhibit his product while networking with some of the biggest names in the industry.

The Big Idea

The idea for Cameron’s Smart Medication Dispenser originally came from a personal experience. Spending time with his great-grandmother “Mamaw” last summer, he saw firsthand the ongoing challenge she has keeping track of her daily medications. Mamaw was 91 and still lived independently, but had several family members nearby that checked on her regularly. Ensuring that the correct dosage was taken at the right time wasn’t easy - for Mamaw or her caretakers. This is a widespread problem that presents a challenging - and sometimes life-threatening - situation.

Cameron couldn’t stop thinking of Mamaw and others in similar situations and wanted to create something to help. He came up with the idea for a dispenser that could be pre-loaded with proper medication doses and programmed to deliver on a set schedule. It would alert the caretaker if a dose was missed, and include security measures to ensure safety. This would help people like Mamaw live more independently, and ease the stress and burden of caretakers who struggle to keep track of medication dosages.

Cameron's Mamaw, the inspiration for the project Cameron's Mamaw, the inspiration for the project

The Contest

Cameron learned about the smart home design competition on and thought it was a great opportunity to explore an area of computing and tech he wasn’t as familiar with while pursuing his concept. For the first part of the contest, participants submitted their idea for a smart home application, and the finalists received a free Rasberry Pi equipped with a Z-Waves Developer Kit. He made it through the first round and quickly got to work building his prototype.

A self-proclaimed “overthinker,” Cameron planned the project in great detail before he actually started to program and build it. Dr. Barbara Anthony, Associate Professor of Computer Science and also Cameron’s advisor, encouraged him to submit a proposal to Southwestern’s King Creativity Program. The King Creativity Fund supports innovative and visionary projects of enrolled students, supporting multiple projects every academic year with grant awards ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Cameron’s proposal was accepted, and the grant provided the additional funding he needed to continue his vision.  

What Happens in Vegas

Cameron had just finished finals and was traveling home to Houston with his older sister when he got word that he was the grand prize winner of a hosted trip to the CES convention. They were so excited, “My sister started jumping and screaming, she was so happy for me!” He had just a few weeks to make arrangements and prepare his exhibit, but it was thrilling and he was honored for the opportunity to attend.

CES is the convention for consumer product innovations. It is known throughout the world as the global stage where the next-generation of technological products are introduced. For a college freshman, the opportunity to attend is pretty cool. But to attend and exhibit your original award-winning concept? That’s remarkable.

“The experience was amazing,” Cameron says. “I met tons of interesting people and saw so many fascinating concepts at all stages of design.” One example? He got to check out a prototype of a product sure to be on everybody’s 2019 Christmas list: The Foldimate. He also answered plenty of questions about his Smart Medication Dispenser and made connections with several people interested in furthering their discussions about it.


At Southwestern, Cameron is majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Data Science. He loves the classes, and how the smaller size encourages personal interactions with other classmates and faculty. He’s involved in the C.S. club on campus, where members get together regularly to discuss technology-related topics. He enjoyed his First-Year Seminar, an interdisciplinary course that covered the philosophy of video games. “They really encourage us to make connections across multiple subjects. We have the freedom to explore areas outside our major.” He’s also taking Chinese and would like to study abroad as part of his Southwestern experience.

Just Getting Started

Cameron accomplished so much in his first semester at Southwestern, but he knows he’s just getting started. He continues to work on his Smart Medication Dispenser project and has many ideas. Right now, his design can hold six medications at a time, but it’s limited only by size. So in theory, one could be large enough to house and dispense medication for an entire hospital floor. He’s working on the voice recognition component, so it can uses voices as a security measure. There are a lot of potential applications, and The Smart Medication Dispenser has the potential to help a lot of people. Sadly, Cameron’s beloved Mamaw passed away the week before the CES convention. But she was there with him - her memory an inspiration to continue his work in her honor.  


For specific details, including a video and photos of the Smart Medication Dispenser click here. For information about Southwestern’s Computer Science program, visit the Computer Science website.