Ten finalists have been chosen to take the medical tricorder, a device inspired by Star Trek, from science fiction to real-life patients. The contest is the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, and the three winning teams will receive about $7 million.
As fans of Star Trek are already well aware, the medical tricorder is a device used to diagnose any disease and sometimes find parasitic aliens. According to the contest webpage, the real-life tricorder will be capable of reading basic health metrics and diagnosing 16 health conditions.
The tricorder must be far superior to the classic thermometer. The body metrics will include blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, and body temperature.
As for the diseases, the Star Trek-inspired device will have to successfully diagnose 13 “core health conditions” including Sleep Apnea, Diabetes, and “absence of condition.” The tricorder will then have to diagnose three elective conditions chosen from a list that includes allergens and strep throat.
The tricorder also can be no more than 5 pounds.
Otherwise, there is enormous leeway for what the device will look like and how it will function, creating a lot of variation far from the Star Trek hand held. Silicon-valley based Scanadu showed off a circular hand-held model that works with smartphone software to monitor vital signs. Other tricorders had a less sleek look but “got the job done.”
Each of the finalists will have to test their tricorders on real-life human patients next year.
Many people have pointed out that the technology required for the Star Trek tricorder competition already exists. Tests for blood pressure, heart rate, and alergens are common place, but bringing all these tests into one convenient device is the part that has some doctors saying it can’t be done. Anil Vaidya, contest finalist and founder of Scanurse, discussed the different points of view.
“Opinions on whether it can be done or not depend on who you’re talking to. Among many physicians the feeling is it can’t be done. I come from a medical engineering background, which is quite different.”
Mr. Vaidya also explained that his device would not look like the conventional Star Trek tricorder but it would get the job done.
Some are wondering whether patients should really hav e Star Trek tricorders.
Such a device is sure to be first on every hypochondriacs Christmas list, but that could be taking work away from doctors. As Dr. Richard Seabrook explains, doctors would be more than happy to offload their simpler cases to focus on more complex work.
A full list of the finalists in the race to make the Star Trek device can found here.
[Image Credit: Star Trek /NBC / Wikimedia Commons]