A unique search need

This is a discussion on A unique search need within the Tech Board forums, part of the Community Boards category; I work for a non-profit that sorts and ships donated surplus medical supplies to the developing world. We do all ...

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    A unique search need

    I work for a non-profit that sorts and ships donated surplus medical supplies to the developing world. We do all of our sorting and packaging of these supplies donated from hospitals or manufactures via the help of volunteers.

    Supplies donated via manufactures are easily handled, as most things are in boxes and labeled. Our problems stem from supplies donated from hospitals. Many of these supplies are unlabeled and little information is given about them.

    So, I was wondering, are there any unique search programs out there that could handle the job of searching for these items if we developed our own database? I had the idea of adapting facial recognition software, but that has proved to be too inaccurate (as many products are so irregular in shape and size, it's hard for the program to distinguish) and is way too computer intensive and slow. Additionally, I thought of a question based search process (i.e. What is it made out of? What color is it? How long/wide/tall is it? etc etc) and theoretically having an answer given via a 20 questions approach, but have had a really hard time finding an existing program that already does this.

    Does anyone have any suggestions about a searching method that would would well for this purpose? Or know of a program that could preform my latter idea?

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    (?<!re)tired Mario F.'s Avatar
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    I don't think without a human-based triage you will get a satisfactory result.

    Arguably you could use a barcode reader, since I recon most of these products have a barcode. However, for non existing barcodes (stuff that was being donated for the first time) and for donations wihout a barcode, you would again need human intervention to introduce the new code and product description or to decide on those donations without a barcode.

    Voluntary work may be your best option.
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    The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.


    Originally Posted by brewbuck:
    Reimplementing a large system in another language to get a 25% performance boost is nonsense. It would be cheaper to just get a computer which is 25% faster.

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    spurious conceit MK27's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pkjr04 View Post
    Does anyone have any suggestions about a searching method that would would well for this purpose? Or know of a program that could preform my latter idea?
    No, but this actually sounds like fun:

    a question based search process (i.e. What is it made out of? What color is it? How long/wide/tall is it? etc etc) and theoretically having an answer given via a 20 questions approach
    Presuming you already have a list of things you've received from hospitals, etc, which I guess that would be your database. I would use exclusively MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS. You definitely want to have photographs of the items too for verification, so I would have an option to "view current possibilities" after every question in case the user gets tired, has a hunch, or can't answer the next question.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mario F. View Post
    I don't think without a human-based triage you will get a satisfactory result.
    That's silly. Of course you could -- unless the item turns out to not be in the database, in which case there is no method that will work.
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    Well we have a sorting system that we use volunteer for. We sort into broad medical categories to get like items together and then box up from there. What this search would be ideal for is for volunteers to use when the item they come across has no identifiable markers. So when they go to search in whatever capacity, the result would ideally display what it is, the name, a pic and which category it belongs in. We could populate the database with our known inventory and then update as needed.

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    (?<!re)tired Mario F.'s Avatar
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    Oh, I see. Didn't fully understand your question initially. My apologies.

    I know of no software in this area. I reckon this is one of the cases where it must be built on a case-by-case basis. But I agree that a questionnaire supported by a database that filters the records further and further with each question is a possible approach.

    How confident are you with programming? Another option is to build the database based on product properties and allow the volunteer to filter through these. That is, other than the expectable fields that would normally define a product, you would add other fields which sole purpose is to help trim down possible matches.

    Container: Box, flask, wrap, ...
    Type of container: paper, plastic, cardboard, glass,...
    Color of product: (Allow for more than one color to be specified)

    Type of Product: medication, appliance, consumables
    Subtypes: (Medication) pills, gel, liquid, ... (Consumables) mask, seringe,...

    With these properties in place on the database, you could ease the task of the volunteer by supplying them with a way to select the correct properties from dropdown boxes on the filtering application and come up with (ideally one, but) several choices from which they can pick the correct one.

    Unfortunately, there's not much more you can do I think. Ultimately it will always be chaos over there when these shipments arrive. You just managed to control it a little bit further.
    The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”
    The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.


    Originally Posted by brewbuck:
    Reimplementing a large system in another language to get a 25% performance boost is nonsense. It would be cheaper to just get a computer which is 25% faster.

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