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Ingestible smart pills are a hard act to swallow

Nick Bilton (via NYT/ SMH) | June 25, 2013
As society struggles with the privacy implications of wearable computers, some startups are already preparingeven more intrusive wave of computing: ingestible computers stuffed inside pills.

A pill called the CorTemp Ingestible Core Body Temperature Sensor, made by HQ Inc in Florida, has a built-in battery and wirelessly transmits real-time body temperature as it travels through a person.

Firefighters, football players, soldiers and astronauts have used the device so their employers can monitor them and ensure they do not overheat in high temperatures. CorTemp began in 2006 as a research collaboration from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lee Carbonelli, HQ's marketing director, said the company hoped, in the next year, to have a consumer version that would wirelessly communicate to a smartphone app.

Future generations of these pills could even be convenience tools.

Last month, Regina Dugan, senior vice president for Motorola Mobility's advanced technology and projects group, showed off an example, along with wearable radio frequency identification tattoos that attach to the skin like a sticker, at the D: All Things Digital technology conference.

Once that pill is in your body, you could pick up your smartphone and not have to type in a password. Instead, you are the password. Sit in the car and it will start. Touch the handle to your home door and it will automatically unlock. "Essentially, your entire body becomes your authentication token," Dugan said.

But if people are worried about the privacy implications of wearable computing devices, just wait until they try to wrap their heads around ingestible computing.

"This is yet another one of these technologies where there are wonderful options and terrible options, simultaneously," said John Perry Barlow, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group. "The wonderful is that there are a great number of things you want to know about yourself on a continual basis, especially if you're diabetic or suffer from another disease. The terrible is that health insurance companies could know about the inner workings of your body."

And the implications of a tiny computer inside your body being hacked? Let's say they are troubling.

There is, of course, one last question for this little pill. After it has done its job, flowing down around the stomach and through the intestinal tract, what happens next?

"It passes naturally thought the body in about 24 hours," Carbonelli said, but since each pill costs $US46, "some people choose to recover and recycle it."

 

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