As part of new research, runners are swallowing electronic pills that track their internal body temperatures and transmit this data in real-time to smartwatches.
The groundbreaking project is being conducted by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. This research aims to enhance sensor technology in wearables.
The core of the innovation: Electronic pills
The electronic pills are designed by French medical company BodyCap. Inside of them is a tiny battery, a temperature sensor, and a transmitter. They focus on measuring the runner’s core temperature, a crucial indicator of heat stress during strenuous activities.
The data gathered from the pills is displayed on smartwatches, such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6. These types of devices additionally measure distance and speed, and function as a heart rate monitor.
The primary goal of this study is to build a comprehensive database of runners’ temperatures. This data will significantly improve the accuracy of wearable devices in detecting core temperatures when worn on the skin.
Not the first such study
Initially developed in collaboration with NASA and Johns Hopkins University, these ingestible thermometer pills were originally designed to monitor astronauts’ body temperatures during space flight. The technology became commercially available in 1988. The pills are approved by the US FDA, and are passed naturally from the body within two days.
The tech found widespread use in sports, particularly after heightened awareness of heatstroke risks in athletes. Universities like South Florida, Florida, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and West Chester have used the pills for monitoring athletes. In addition to NFL teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, and Minnesota Vikings. The tech has been instrumental in correlating core body temperature with symptoms of heat-related illnesses and have led to the development of new guidelines for practice conditions in hot weather.
Broader implications for health monitoring
The potential applications of the Singapore study extend way beyond athletes. High-risk groups like seniors, outdoor workers, and firefighters could benefit greatly from more accurate monitoring of vital signs. Improvements in vitals tracking tech could increase their safety. This is particularly the case in climates with high heat and humidity.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
The wearable tech brand that has perhaps gone furthest in temperature monitoring from the wrist is Withings. The recently released Scanwatch 2, employs a sophisticated heat flux sensor alongside a precise skin temperature sensor to generate temperature readings. It offers users a view of their core body temperature variations, tracking throughout the day and night, during workouts, and in recovery phases post-exercise. This unique feature set, not found in other watches, provides users with detailed insights into their temperature zones during different states of activity and rest.
While the current focus is on these ingestible sensors, the long-term objective of the Singapore study is to improve on non-invasive methods for accurate temperature monitoring. As Associate Professor Jason Lee, the director of the centre, noted, the ultimate aim is to signal to individuals when they are nearing their thermal thresholds for safety.
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