Smart pills are the next big thing to happen to medicine. No, taking them won’t increase your IQ, although there are many products out there that claim to do this. Smart pills are capsules or tablets embedded with some sort of tiny edible sensor that transmits information about a person’s internal body or electronically controls the delivery of medicine. According to market research, the smart pill technology market is expected to grow to almost $1 billion by the year 2017. Here’s what you need to know about the latest smart pill tech.

The IntelliCap

Philips Research is developing a smart pill called the IntelliCap that would electronically control drug delivery according to a predefined drug release profile. Because different areas of the intestinal tract have distinct pH levels, the pill would be able to determine its location by measuring its environment’s acidity. For example, the stomach is highly acidic, but as the pill exits the stomach, the acidity of the gut dramatically decreases. When it determines it is in the correct site of disease, the IntelliCap releases a controlled amount of medicine from its drug reservoir through a microprocessor-controlled pump. In addition to drug delivery, the pill can also measure local temperature and report data wirelessly to an external receiver unit, such as a smartphone.

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Philips isn’t the only company developing smart pills. Proteus Digital Health has developed a pill that texts an alert when it enters a patient’s stomach. The developer aims to prevent hospital readmissions and provide an ease of mind for family caregivers who want to ensure that their loved ones are taking their medication. The electronic pill is even completely powered by the consumer’s own body. Without a battery or antenna, the copper and magnesium-coated pill gets its electrical charge from electrolytes in the patient’s stomach. When the pill is activated within the stomach, it then transmits a signal to a small, battery-powered patch worn on the patient’s torso, which then sends a notification that it has been ingested via Bluetooth to a caregiver’s or physician’s smartphone. The smart pill can even send an alert when the next dosage is due and record whether the patient is sleeping well or getting enough exercise. The intent is that the smart pill will reduce costly and risky hospital readmission. According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, about 20% of Medicare recipients end up back in the hospital within 30 days of discharge, costing the federal government an estimated extra $17 billion a year.

A pilot program for the Proteus smart pill has shown to be effective in Britain, but the US Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve its implementation inside active medication. So far, the FDA has only approved the ingestible sensor technology for use in an inactive pill. However, it’s only a matter of time until patients begin to see this innovative technology incorporated into their weekly pill schedules.


  1. Drevitch G. The newest, high-tech pill will text when swallowed. Forbes website. April 16, 2013.
  2. Jencks SF, Williams MV, Coleman EA. Rehospitalizations among patients in the Medicare fee-for-service program. N Engl J Med. 2009;360:1418-1428.
  3. Philips’ intelligent pill targets drug development and treatment for digestive tract diseases. Philips website. November 11, 2008.
  4. Philips Research – video: IntelliCap – technology overview. Philips website.
  5. Proteus website.
  6. Smart pills technology market worth $965 million by 2017. Markets and Markets website.