The thought of eating an electronic device hardly whets your appetite, but such a “meal” can still be useful. Because the mini machines will soon administer medication, monitor intestinal health and pass on current health data to doctors. This means that therapies can be targeted more specifically without the need for an inconvenient gastroscopy or colonoscopy. The devices can also detect impending problems that the patient has not yet noticed. Countless scientists around the world are currently thinking about how to make electronics “edible”.
Caramelized sugar could serve as conductor material
The biggest challenge is finding materials that are safe for consumption. The common elements found in electronic devices such as manganese, magnesium, silicon and copper are harmless in very small amounts, but the limits are too low to create a working product. Innovations are in demand, researchers are dealing with degradable polymers such as apple extract, silk fibroin and pea protein to replace the usual conductor materials. Even caramelized sugar is put to the test, as are the trend drink Gatarode and the spread Vegemite because of the many electrolytes it contains.
What about semiconductors, sensors and radio systems?
In the case of semiconductors, it is not so simple: the scientists are conducting experiments with pigments, proteins and dyes. Even silicon is not out of the running in small amounts. All well and good, but what about the energy supply? Recently, a mini battery was created at Carnegie Mellon University using a melanin cathode (melanin is the pigment that colors hair and skin) and a manganese oxide anode. That would be a harmless solution. Alternatively, it is possible to use chemical energy from food in the digestive tract or kinetic energy generated by gastrointestinal movements. However, the associated prototypes do not yet generate enough energy or do not function in the body. Further research is needed.
Fully edible sensors and RF radio systems also have yet to be invented. It is only available in an indigestible version, which is excreted by the body. Overall, the research branch has the potential to become a trend of the future.