Ingestible Technologies

Posted by sys on 05/10/2013 12:00 am  /   Technology

At first glance, the words ingestible and technology don't quite fit together. We think of foods and pills as ingestible and technologies are iPhone's and Google. So what are these things? Ingestible technologies are electronic pills you swallow to measure a physiological parameter or deliver a drug.

The ingestible capsule is not a new device. Mackay and Jacobson developed one of the first radiotelemetry capsules in 1957 (1).  It was capable of measuring both pressure and temperature. In the late 80's, NASA worked with the John Hopkins University to develop an Ingestible Thermal Monitoring System (2).

Current Smart Pills are about the size of a mega vitamin and contain sensors, electronics, transmitters and a power source. Typical measurements include temperature, pressure and pH. Advanced Smart Pills contain a drug delivery system.

The most popular Smart Pill measures your body's core temperature. Before you ask Why and 100 other questions, think of professional sports, safety and player value. University ofFlorida fullback Eraste Autin collapsed from heat exhaustion on July 19, 2001 and died July 25th. Minnesota Vikings lineman Korey Stringer died of heat stroke August 1, 2001. Korey was 27; Eraste was 18. Both were professional athletes, under supervision and properly hydrated. There were no reported warning signs of heat stroke. With the loss of these and other athletes, professional sports sought a technological solution.

HQ Inc ( manufactures the Core Temp System. Its been used by Duke, Virginia Tech, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Minnesota Vikings and  the Philadelphia Eagles.  Players swallow a pill about 2 hours before the game. 

During the game, the pill is constantly measuring & transmitting the player's core temperature. A trainer will run up behind a player and read their internal temperature; if the core temperature is approaching heat stroke range (~ 104 deg F), they may be pulled from the field to prevent a heat related illness.

Pills are approximately $40 each in volume. The PDA type receivers are about $4,000. What's left of the pill is usually expelled within 48 hours (3). As a side note, no one really discussed pill reclamation in any article I read.


1. S. Mackay and B. Jacobson, "Endoradiosonde," Nature, vol. 179, pp. 1239-1240, 1957.

2. NASA, Ingestible Thermometer Pill Aids Athletes in Beating the Heat,

3. "North Carolina football players testing pill that can give body temperature readings"  August 2009

Contribution by Al Rottkamp, MBA, MS

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Published 14 October 2009