Approved: The First Swallowable Electronic Devices

Digital pills that monitor you from within

No matter how fast pharmaceutical companies can churn out drugs to prevent or cure illnesses, health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of hiring a person to follow you around and remind you to take your meds. So the FDA has approved a pill that can do it on its own by monitoring your insides and relaying the information back to a healthcare provider.

The pills, made by Proteus Digital Health, have sand-particle-sized silicon chips with small amounts of magnesium and copper on them. After they’re swallowed, they generate voltage as they make contact with digestive juices. That signals a patch on the person’s skin, which then relays a message to a mobile phone given to a healthcare provider. It’s only been approved for use with placebos right now, but the company is hoping to get it approved for use with other drugs (which would be where it would get the most use).

Even if there’s a slight whiff of dystopia about a pill that tracks your actions, it does help with a major problem. Patients aren’t the best at taking their pills, especially those suffering from chronic illnesses, so it’s one step of many toward a future where they don’t have to.