First announced in 2012, the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE has sought to bring together the best and brightest minds in the field together to make science fiction science fact. In short, they sought to create a handheld device that could would mimic some of the key functions of the iconic Star Trek tricorder, allowing consumers access to reliable, easy to use diagnostic equipment any time, anywhere, with near instantaneous results.
And now, the list of potential candidates has been whittled down to ten finalists. And while they might be able to live up to the fictitious original, the devices being developed are quite innovative and could represent a significant technological advancement in the diagnostic domain. Qualcomm is offering a US$10 million prize purse in the hope of stimulating the research and development of precision diagnostic equipment.
In order to qualify for the prize, the successful scanner must comply with an ambitious set of parameters. First, the device must be able to reliably capture an individual’s heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation in an easy to use and completely non-invasive fashion. It must also diagnose 13 core diseases – including pneumonia, tuberculosis and diabetes – along with three additional health conditions to be chosen by each team.
Each device varies widely in terms of appearance and composition, but that’s hardly surprising. The only limitations placed on the teams in terms of construction is that the entire apparatus must have a mass of less than 2.3kg (5 lb). Due to the wide range of tests needed to be carried out by the tricorder in order to capture the necessary health metrics, it is highly unlikely that any of the scanners will take the form of a single device.
The shortlisted entries include Scanadu (pictured above), a company which is currently developing an entire portfolio of handheld medical devices. The circular sensor is programmed to measure blood pressure, temperature, ECG, oximetry, heart rate, and the breathing rate of a patient or subject – all from a simple, ten second scan. Then there’s Aezon, an American-based team comprised of student engineers from Johns Hopkins University, Maryland.
The Aezon device is made up of a wearable Vitals Monitoring Unit – designed to capture oxygen saturation, blood pressure, respiration rate and ECG metrics – and The Lab Box, a small portable device that makes use of microfluidic chip technology in order to diagnose diseases ranging from streptococcal pharyngitis to a urinary tract infection by analyzing biological samples.
The other finalists include CloudDX, a Canadian company from Mississauga, Ontario; Danvantri, from Chennai, India; DMI from Cambridge, Mass; the Dynamical Biomarkers Group from Zhongli City, Taiwan; Final Frontier Medical Devices from Paoli, PA; MESI Simplifying Diagnostics from Ljubljana, Slovenia; SCANurse from London, England; and the Zensor from Belfast, Ireland.
In all cases, the entrants are compact, lightweight and efficient devices that push the information obtained through their multiple sensors to a smartphone or tablet interface. This appears to be done with a proprietary smartphone app via the cloud, where it can also be analyzed by a web application. Users will also be able to access their test results, discover information regarding possible symptoms and use big data to form a possible diagnosis.
The next and final round of tests for the teams will take place next year between November and December. The scanners will be put through a diagnostic competition involving 15-30 patients whilst judges evaluate the consumers user experience. The final test will also assess the scanners’ adequacy in high-frequency data logging, and the overall winners will be announced in early 2016, and awarded the lucrative $10 million prize to develop their product and bring it to market.
If such a device could be simple enough to allow for self-diagnosis by the general public, it could play a key part in alleviating the pressure on overburdened healthcare systems by cutting down on unnecessary hospital visits. It will also be a boon for personalized medicine, making regular hospital visits quicker, easier, and much less expensive. And let’s not forget, it’s science fiction and Trekky-nerd gold!
Be sure to check out the video below that outlines the aims and potential benefits of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE challenge. And for more information on the finalists, and to see their promotional videos, check out the Qualcomm website here.