Case Study | Mars Petcare

Smart Pill – Autonomous sampling device to accelerate research

We were asked by the world-renowned Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition – Part of Mars Petcare – to help develop an innovative electronic pill to collect partially digested food samples from exact locations inside the canine gut. It goes without saying that this had to be done safely and within the highest ethical standards.

The global pet care market is estimated to be worth over $200bn annually and increasingly owners want their companions to lead a higher and higher quality of life. Delivering this requires innovation, but to create better pet foods scientists need to know exactly how much nutrition an animal is extracting from its diet.

Our Approach

Working closely with Waltham scientists we created an electromechanical Smart Pill about the size of a grape that dogs can enthusiastically swallow. The pill is then triggered by it’s location in the GI tract and takes a small sample of the digestive juice. When the pill is finally excreted, the sample can be retrieved and analysed in the lab to discover what parts of the food have been absorbed. 

The design of this autonomous system was very challenging, not only must it survive the rigours of a dog’s digestion, but it also had to operate repeatably despite the wide range of variables inherent in living animals. Because this had never been done before, we worked with the Waltham team diligently through many device and protocol iterations until they could successfully collect reliable data.

A unique system of sensors and actuators ensures each sample is collected as the pill enters the first part of the intestine
Samples are used to analyze the way various nutrients are absorbed during digestion
The pill emits a radio signal, enabling accurate location tracking throughout its journey

The value we created

The new Smart Pill enables the Waltham Centre to gain unique and important insights into canine digestion to advance scientific knowledge and their strategic development capability.

The Smart Pill combines sensors and actuators into a unique system that is protected by patents owned by the Waltham Centre.

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