I’ve written before, here on Associated Content, about nanotechnology – tiny machines that are the size of molecules. While not quite that small, researchers have been working on computerized machines – tiny chips – which can be ingested, and which perform a variety of functions. I’ll first discuss two which are extremely useful, and then give an example of one which is…well, not so useful, and a bit of a head-scratcher.
One such pill / capsule of increasing interest is an internal thermometer. It provides very valuable information regarding the body’s core temperature. Its uses range from monitoring the health and safety of athletes during their training exercises, to monitoring the health of astronauts exposed to the intense cold of space. The way this particular pill works is quite clever. Inside the pill is a temperature-sensitive quartz crystal, which vibrates back and forth with a known frequency. The frequency with which it vibrates changes as the pill is heated or cooled, which would happen if the material surrounding the pill (the persons digestive tract) heats up, or cools down. The pill comes matched to a small electronic hand held receiver, and when you hold the receiver to the small of the persons back, the oscillating quartz crystal sets up a magnetic flux coupling between the pill and the receiver. This induces a voltage in the handheld device’s antenna, which can then be correlated to the temperature of the pill, and therefore the internal (core) temperature of the person in question. Quite clever, as it doesn’t require a separate power supply for the pill and is quite accurate (down to 0.1 degrees Celcius).
Another example of a circuitry-containing pill is the internal camera. Technically called an endoscopic capsule, it’s a mini camera that a patient can swallow, and the pills outer coating helps the camera survive the harsh stomach acids of the patient and the capsule eventually makes its way through the entire gastrointestinal tract. Images are sent wirelessly to a receiver worn on the patients belt. The advantage to this technology is that areas of the intestine not easily accessible by traditional colonoscopies can be viewed by this method, and there is a huge decrease in the invasiveness of the medical procedure (to say the least – a root canal has nothing on a colonoscopy).
The third example of this type of technology that I came across…well, I’m puzzled. That happens a lot, even though I consider myself to be reasonably well-educated, and somewhat smart in the area of technology. It’s just that for the life of me, I can’t figure out the purpose of this final piece of pill-circuitry, despite reading multiplearticles about it. It’s a tiny circuit board that, via radio signal, alerts you if you have taken it, or not. It doesn’t sense the presence of other medications, it merely sends out a signal to say that yes, you have swallowed it.
I suppose – and this is just my guess here – I suppose that this is supposed to be taken at the same time as other daily medication, and be useful for people with mental disorders, or perhaps the extremely elderly, who are forgetful and often skip taking their medications as a result. However, wouldn’t that mean that they would also forget to take this pill? Seriously, the best solution to this problem that we can come up with is…taking a pill, to remind you to take a pill?
Better living through chemistry. God bless America.