Using stomach acid to power sensory tech-tablets

This tiny monitor is designed to rest in your digestive system and sustain itself with it.
MIT tech pill

Researchers at MIT in collaboration with medical engineers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have developed an ingestible tech-tablet that can potentially perform multiple beneficial functions while resting peacefully in your stomach.

The innovation comes as a response to the limitations of conventional tools, such as a stethoscope, which must stop at the surface of the skin (and is rendered useless in the case of a burn victim, for example). It is a sensor system in pill form – one that can possibly usher in a new generation of ingestible sensors for the unique way that it is powered.

Conventional pill-monitors have been used successfully for some years to accurately track the vital signs of patients from their insides, but they are powered with tiny on-board batteries which run flat eventually and can pose a health risk for the outside chance that the battery self-discharges by accident. This tech-tablet, however, draws power from the host’s stomach acid to continue working for extended periods of time naturally.

Not only does this electronic pill have the capability to read bodily signs of a patient accurately from the inside, but the omission of a battery makes it a safer, potentially less expensive alternative to the current equivalent. In addition to analysing the body’s rhythms endemically (such as heart rate and lung functionality), the new ingestible sensor can be used to deliver medicine at regular intervals during its stay in your system to treat conditions such as high blood pressure.

While the tech-tablet currently exists in a diminutive 40 millimetres in length and 12 millimeters in diameter, engineers are working to miniaturise it even further so as to increase capacity for additional functions.

The design team behind the minuscule piece of technology, led by gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer Giovanni Traverso, developed the “voltaic cell” that converts the tummy’s acidity into electricity. During trials, their model harnessed enough energy to power a temperature sensor and to transmit its data wirelessly every dozen seconds.