Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are developing edible batteries to power internal devices for diagnosing and treating disease. With a size of approximately two millimeters thick and one centimeter width, the edible electronic produces the same amount of energy as one-third of a standard AA battery.
During the mid-1990s, scientists started developing an edible camera that allowed doctors to visualize inaccessible parts of the intestine. However, the components of the capsule contained toxic materials, which made it difficult for surgeons to imply this technique. “That’s kind of the first generation. They use materials and components you might find at a RadioShack” says Christopher Bettinger, associate professor at CMU.
The FDA first approved the camera capsule in 2001, followed by a first line small bowel imaging modality in 2003. The team of CMU researchers has followed up on earlier designs and developed a non-toxic battery from the skin pigment melanin, which naturally occurs in our skin, hair and eyes. With a durability of about 20 hours, the capsule turned into a niche product for biomedical devices. And if it gets stuck, the battery would simply degrade in the body in a matter of weeks.