The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

A Medical Sensor You Can Swallow

FDA approval for an ingestible sensor clears the way for "digitized medicines"

2 min read
A Medical Sensor You Can Swallow

Even pills are going digital.

This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an ingestible sensor that can be packaged inside a pill. The sensor, made by Proteus Digital Health, is intended to help patients stick to their medication plans. When it reaches the stomach, it sends a signal to a patch that the patient wears on the skin. That patch records the time when the medication and its sensor were ingested, and transmits that information (along with some other health stats like heart rate) to a smartphone app. The patient can then share his records with doctors, family members, or anyone else who's helping him monitor his medication compliance.   

The tiny sensor, which Proteus says is mostly made of silicon and is the size of a grain of sand, powers up when it hits the stomach and encounters fluids: It uses magnesium and copper as electrodes, and the fluid acts as the ion bridge for the electrochemical reaction. The company seems to assume that people will be creeped out by the idea of swallowing a sensor, so in an animated video, below, Proteus compares the sensor to the most innocuous of science class experiments: the potato battery.

Proteus says it's investigating applications for patients with diabetes, people with diseases of the central nervous system like schizophrenia and Alzheimer's, and organ transplant recipients who have to follow strict drug regimens to suppress their immune systems.

While no pharmaceutical companies have yet come out with "digitized" medicines, Proteus has picked up industry collaborators like Novartis. And in the EU, where the system has already received regulatory approval, a retail pharmacy chain has announced plans to sell packages that include both inert sensor-enabled pills and the patient's usual medications.

Image and Video: Proteus Digital Healthcare

The Conversation (0)

Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

Keep Reading ↓Show less