Ingestible|Autonomous Health Devices

From drug-delivering microbots to cancer-fighting nano-swarms, the age of ingestible, autonomous health devices is upon us. So it was only a matter of time before somebody built a miniature stethoscope that sits in your GI tract monitoring your vital signs.

And hey, it’s a pretty clever idea. Developed by researchers at MIT, the pill-sized sensor pictured above uses a tiny microphone to measure acoustic waves produced by the beat of your heart and the rise and fall of your lungs.

From there, the sensor calculates your heart rate and breathing rate, wirelessly beaming data to an external receiver. Your doc can download the vitals and immediately analyze them for signs of trouble—without calling you into his office and making you don a paper moo-moo.

The sensor (still a prototype) has already proven effective in pigs, and the engineers behind it, who published a paper in PLOS One this week, hope to begin human trials soon.

Possible applications include rapidly diagnosing heart conditions or breathing problems, monitoring soldiers for signs of fatigue and dehydration, and improving training for professional athletes. Future versions of the sensor might be tweaked to measure all sort of other health metrics, or to deliver medicine on a precise schedule.

So, if doctors visits are a tedious annual chore, take comfort in the fact that we’re inching ever closer to a future where routine check-ups are replaced with live-in robots that incessantly monitor our bodily functions. You know, as much as one can take comfort from that.

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