Could swallowing a digestible digital pill be the key to a more pleasant flight?
British Airways hopes so and filed a patent with the UK’s Intellectual Property Office earlier in 2016. The “ingestible sensor” will measure stomach acidity levels, temperature, sleep, and heart rate of the user. Information from the sensor can be used to adjust lighting, menu, and overall wellbeing. This means you won’t have to ring for a flight attendant the next time you need a blanket or a glass of water— they’ll already know.
British Airways is also looking into an app that captures the same data. But their filing goes above and beyond just inputting or fitness tracking. This technology could give a deeper insight into its user’s health — literally and figuratively.
While some may find ingesting a foreign object to be a bit too invasive, many companies, from startups to Google, have been researching the utility for such devices. Many applications focus more narrowly on medication adherence. We’ve also seen Proteus launch several studies and pilots, particularly to monitor medication adherence among children. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a digital sensor with Abilify (aripiprazole) to monitor patient adherence and physiological response.
While British Airways has no immediate plans to put this program to use, other airlines like Virgin Atlantic have been using medical apps and mobile technology to make passengers more comfortable, specifically when it comes to jet lag. Their Jet Lag Fighter app gives recommendations for light exposure and sleep schedule based on your flight itinerary. Entrain from the University of Michigan is another app that helps frequent fliers with their circadian rhythms.
While we’ve frequently discussed ingestible sensors in the context of medications, to monitor adherence or treatment response, this is one of the first uses we’ve seen more oriented to general wellness. It will be interesting to see what else follows.