An introduction to the Smart Digital pill

The FDA has approved a smart digital pill that has the ability to track when it’s been ingested, along with many other health metrics.

So, it is clear that the pill uses ‘sensor’ in it, but what does a sensor actually mean? As the name suggests, sensor is something that senses. Now what does a sensor sense? The sensor can sense any change in the surroundings, the change can be in temperature, pressure, sound, etc. The changes detected by the sensor are transmitted in the form of electrical signals. The type of change detected by a particular sensor depends on the type of the sensor and the type of change it is employed to detect. Based on that, there are different kind of sensors. Sensors are basically installed in devices to make the operation of devices automatic rather than human based or human controlled.


Types of sensors

There are many different types of sensors in use today making use of different types of technologies. Sensors in a broad way are classified as digital or analog sensors. This classification is based on type of signal transmitted and in what form is the communication between the detector and receiver is carried out.
Analog sensors transmit continuous analog signals for communication.
Digital sensors transmit digital signals that are not continuous but are discrete.

Now the categorization of sensors is also based on the type of signal or change to be detected. The communication here between the detector and the receiver can be either in digital or analog form. The categories are:-
1. Temperature Sensor
2. IR Sensor
3. Ultrasonic Sensor
4. Touch Sensor
5. Proximity Sensors
6. Pressure Sensor
7. Level Sensors
8. Smoke and Gas Sensors

Temperature Sensor

As is indicated by the name, it works according to the temperature changes, it means it detects changes in temperature and functions accordingly. The devices that are used for detecting temperature are mostly used for switching the main device(in which they are installed) ON or OFF and the main component used in these are the temperature sensors. These sensors can be thermistors (temperature based resistors or thermally sensitive resistors) or they can be digital sensors.

Temperature sensor
A common digital temperature sensor

Temperature sensors are installed in many temperature based devices like Air Conditioners, fans, etc.

IR sensors

IR sensors or Infrared sensors consist of small phototchips having photocells which are used to emit and detect the infrared light.
IR sensors are frequently used to design T.V. remotes. It is a simple IR sensor based electronics project used for controlling a robotic vehicle remotely using the general T.V. remote or IR remote.

IR sensor
This is how a typical IR sensor works by detecting IR signal and responding

Ultrasonic sensors

The word “Transducer” is the collective term used for both Sensors which can be used to sense a wide range of different energy forms such as movement, electrical signals, radiant energy, thermal or magnetic energy etc, and Actuators which can be used to switch voltages or currents.

Ultrasonic sensor
A typical Ultrasonic sensor

Touch sensor

Touch sensors can be defined as switches that are activated by the touch. There are different types of touch sensors that are classified based on type of touch such as capacitance touch switch, resistance touch switch, and piezo touch switch.

Touch sensor
Touch sensor

Proximity sensors

These types of sensors detect or sense the presence of nearby objects without any physical contact. They emit electromagnetic radiation or beam of electromagnetic radiation and the signal is then reflected by the surface of the object to be detected. Based on the reflection, the distance of the object is detected.

Proximity sensor
This is how a typical proximity sensor looks like

Pressure sensors

Pressure sensor is a device that senses pressure and converts it into analog electrical signal. The magnitude of the signal depends upon the pressure applied. Since, the pressure sensors convert pressure into an electrical signal, they are also termed as pressure transducers.

A pressure sensor
This is a pressure sensor normally looks like

Level sensors

Level sensors detect the level of liquids and other fluids and fluidized solids, including slurries, granular materials, and powders that exhibit an upper free surface. Substances that flow become essentially horizontal in their containers (or other physical boundaries) because of gravity whereas most bulk solids pile at an angle of repose to a peak.

Level sensor
A large fork point level sensor for liquids

Smoke and gas sensors

A smoke detector is a device that senses smoke, typically as an indicator of fire. Commercial security devices issue a signal to a fire alarm control panel as part of a fire alarm system, while household smoke detectors, also known as smoke alarms, generally issue a local audible or visual alarm from the detector itself.

The first digital pill

The FDA has approved the first smart pill for use in the United States. Called Abilify MyCite, the pill contains a drug and an ingestible sensor that is activated when it comes into contact with stomach fluid to detect when the pill has been taken. The pill then transmits this data to a wearable patch that subsequently transfers the information to an app on a paired smartphone. From that point, with a patient’s consent, the data can be accessed by the patient’s doctors or caregivers via a web portal.

The patch
The patch inserted at the left rib cage of the patient, it receives message about the intake of medicine by the patient

Once the signal has been sent, the sensor gets digested and thrown out of the body just like normal food.
This pill has been designed for patients with mental diseases who cannot monitor their medicine intake on time by themselves and also for the patients who who have a disease of forgetfulness like those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the sensor signal will notify the patient or the caretaker to take the medicine on time.

Smart pill
The first smart digital pill manufactured by Abilify MyCite

But it has got some problems

Though it is being praised a lot for being a revolution in itself, but still it also has got some drawbacks that many doctors are pointing at. As it is clear, it has been mainly developed for Schizophrenia patients. The problem with Schizophrenia patients is that being one of the worst cases of mental illness, the patients tend to have some sort of paranoia. If the patients come to know of the fact that the pills they are ingesting have some sensors in them that are going to keep track of not only their medicine intake but also of the movements of the patients after taking the drug.

Notification of the smart pill intake
The activity of the patient will be notified to concerned physician this may lead to paranoia of the patient

This might increase the paranoia of the patient and they might assume that they are being trapped by someone. This might worsen their case. The patient might take some drastic step or simply ignore the medication completely, these would prove to be dangerous for the patients. Doctors are of the opinion that making a drug with inbuilt sensor would have been a wise step had it been made for any other mental disease but definitely not Schizophrenia.

Concept and the technology are appreciable none the less

If the minor drawbacks are ignored, the technology involved and the concept behind the pill are appreciable. If pills could be designed as such to be used for right patients, it’ll be proved very helpful in keeping many serious health problems in check. Though it can’t make patients adhere to the medicine but it still can notify the patients and remind them about taking the medicine on time. This can save a lot of patients’ money and doctors’ time.


Smart pill and patch
The smart pill along with the patch that is attached to the body of the patient

Non- adherence to the intake of medicine on time is the major problem which leads to the worsening the case of the people suffering from serious diseases and patients are mostly not honest about it to their doctors which prevents the doctors using the right treatment. This not only waste a lot of doctors’ time and energy but also waste patients’ money as well.
This pill can help get rid of that condition.