Finalists Selected for Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize

Tricorder X_prizeFirst 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.

medical_tricorderIn 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.

qualcommtricorderchallenge-3The 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.

Tricorder XThe 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.


The Future is Here: Sweat-Powered Smart Tatoo

smart_tatoosSmart tattoos are the hot ticket item of modern medicine, combining ultra-thin electronics with flexible materials. When they become commonplace, they will be a great way to monitor vital signs and health. The only thing that seems to be holding them back, is finding a way to power them. Tiny batteries are one possibility, but lack practicality, and microwaves are several years away from being feasible.

Luckily, Joseph Wang – a researchers from UCSD – has come up with a way to generate power for these devices without using any external equipment. The secret, is to harness electrons from lactate acid secreted in sweat. These acids are produced when our muscles work to exhaustion, a waste product that causes muscles to “burn”, but which the brain thrives upon. Hence why it is the endpoint in lactate’s metabolization cycle. lactate was discovered to be released in sweat, exercise physiologists began developing sensor technology to measure its levels in the sweat and blood. Wang has taken the next logical step of adding provisions to accumulate charge when lactate is enzymatically sensed. By embedding enzymes that process lactate into the tattoo, he was able to extract 70 microwatts per cm² of skin.

The only catch with this tattoo is that you need to be hot – as in pedaling your heart out on a bike for 30 minutes – to get the lactate out. That, however, may not be a barrier to this technology, since it is possible to selectively activate the sympathetic nerves that control the sweat glands in a discrete patch of skin. That way, you override the normal control and can sweat without the heat or exertion.

flexible_elecThe other part of the puzzle would be to actually generate the lactic acid. Preferably, this would be done locally as well, rather than having to have high levels circulating in the blood. But in the end, such steps would not even be necessary considering that a vitals and health monitoring that occurs into a workout – after an initial warm-up and good sweat have taken place – could be just what the doctor ordered (no pun intended!).

Other researchers have already imagined e-tattoos to read your thoughts and desires, either by reading unvocalized words or EEG readings. And compared to past generations of sensor devices, these tattoos represent a sophisticated electronic package with on-board signal processing and communications. With a discrete way to power such devices, a formidable tool for self discovery might be had.


Ending Parkinsons: Wearables and Cloud Storage

parkinsonsBehind Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease is the second-most widespread neurodegenerative brain disorder in the world, and affects one out of every 100 people over the age of 60. After first being described in 1817 by Dr. James Parkinson, treatment and diagnosis have barely changed. Surgery, medications, and management techniques can help relieve symptoms, but as of yet, there is no cure.

In addition, the causes are not fully understood and appear to vary depending on the individual. But measuring it is often a slow process that doesn’t generate nearly enough data for researchers to make any significant progress. Luckily, Intel recently teamed up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to and have proposed using wearable devices, coupled with cloud computing, to speed up the data collection process.

apple_iwatch1Due to the amount of variables involved in Parkinson’s symptoms — speed of movement, frequency and strength of tremors, how it affects sleep, and so on — the symptoms are difficult and tedious to track. Often, data is accrued through patient diaries, which is a slow process. Intel’s plan, which will involve the deployment of smartwatches, can not only increase the rate of data collection, but detect a much higher volume of variables and frequency than a personal diary could.

It is hopes that they will be able to record 300 observations per second, thus creating a massive amount of data per patient. The use of wearables means that the data can even be reported and monitored by researchers and doctors in real time. Later this year, the MJFF is even planning on launching a mobile app that adds medication intake monitoring and allows patients to record how they feel, making personal diaries easier to create and share.

cloud-serverIn order to collect and manage the data, it will be uploaded to a cloud storage data platform, and has the ability to notice changes in the data in real time. This allows researchers to track the changes in patient symptoms and share from a large field of data to better spot common patterns and symptoms. In the end, its not quite a cure, but it should help speed up the process of finding one.

Wearable technology, cloud computing and wireless data monitoring are the hallmarks of personalized medicine, which appears to be the way of the future. And while the concept of metadata and keeping medical information in centralized databases may make some nervous (as it raises certain privacy issues), keeping it anonymous and about the symptoms should lead to a speedy development of treatments and ever cures.

And be sure to check out this video from the intelnewsroom, explaining the collaboration in detail:



The Future is Here: Glucose-Monitoring Contact Lenses

google-novartis-alcon-smart-contact-lens-0Earlier this year, Google announced that it was developing a contact lens that would be capable of monitoring blood glucose levels. By monitoring a person’s glucose levels through their tears, and sending that information to a smartphone, the device promised to do away with tests that require regular blood samples and pinpricks. And now, a partnership has been announced between that will help see this project through to completion.

Alcon, the eye care division of Novartis – a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company – recently joined Google’s project to commercialize “smart contact lens” technology. The project, which came out of the Google X blue-sky innovation arm of the company, aimed to utilize a “tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material,” in order to detect glucose levels present in tears.

google-novartis-alcon-smart-contact-lensAt the time of the initial announcement in January, Google said its prototypes were able to take one glucose reading per second and that they was investigating ways for the device to act as an early warning system for the wearer should glucose levels become abnormal. All that was needed was a partner with the infrastructure and experience in the medical industry to see the prototypes put into production.

Under the terms of the new agreement, Google will license the technology to Alcon “for all ocular medical uses” and the two companies will collaborate to develop the lens and bring it to market. Novartis says that it sees Google’s advances in the miniaturization of electronics as complementary to its own expertise in pharmaceuticals and medical device. No doubt, the company also sees this as an opportunity to get in on the new trend of digitized, personalized medicine.

future_medicineAs Novartis said in a recent press release:

The agreement marries Google’s expertise in miniaturized electronics, low power chip design and microfabrication with Alcon’s expertise in physiology and visual performance of the eye, clinical development and evaluation, as well as commercialization of contact and intraocular lenses.

The transaction remains subject to anti-trust approvals, but assuming it goes through, Alcon hopes it will help to accelerate its product innovation. And with that, diabetics can look forward to yet another innovative device that simplifies the blood monitoring process and offers better early warning detection that can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, foot ulcers, loss of vision, and coma.


Looking Forward: 10 Breakthroughs by 2025

BrightFutureWorld-changing scientific discoveries are emerging all the time; from drugs and vaccines that are making incurable diseases curable, to inventions that are making renewable energies cheaper and more efficient. But how will these develops truly shape the world of tomorrow? How will the combination of advancements being made in the fields of medical, digital and industrial technology come together to change things by 2025?

Well, according to the Thomson Reuters IP & Science unit – a leading intellectual property and collaboration platform – has made a list of the top 10 breakthroughs likely to change the world. To make these predictions, they  looked at two sorts of data – current scientific journal literature and patent applications. Counting citations and other measures of buzz, they identified 10 major fields of development, then made specific forecasts for each.

As Basil Moftah, president of the IP & Science business (which sells scientific database products) said:

A powerful outcome of studying scientific literature and patent data is that it gives you a window into the future–insight that isn’t always found in the public domain. We estimate that these will be in effect in another 11 years.

In short, they predict that people living in 2025 will have access to far more in the way of medical treatments and cures, food will be more plentiful (surprisingly enough), renewable energy sources and applications will be more available, the internet of things will become a reality, and quantum and medical science will be doing some very interesting thins.

1. Dementia Declines:
geneticsPrevailing opinion says dementia could be one of our most serious future health challenges, thanks in no small part to increased life expectancy. In fact, the World Health Organization expects the number of cases to triple by 2050. The Thomson Reuters report is far more optimistic though, claiming that a focus on the pathogenic chromosomes that cause neuro-degenerative disease will result in more timely diagnosis, and earlier, more effective treatment:

In 2025, the studies of genetic mutations causing dementia, coupled with improved detection and onset-prevention methods, will result in far fewer people suffering from this disease.

2. Solar Power Everywhere:
solarpowergeWith the conjunction of increased efficiencies, dropping prices and improved storage methods, solar power will be the world’s largest single source of energy by 2025. And while issues such as weather-dependence will not yet be fully resolved, the expansion in panel use and the incorporation of thin photovoltaic cells into just about every surface imaginable (from buildings to roadways to clothing) will means that solar will finally outstrip fossil fuels as coal as the predominant means of getting power.

As the authors of the report write:

Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic energy (from new dye-sensitized and thin-film materials) will heat buildings, water, and provide energy for devices in the home and office, as well as in retail buildings and manufacturing facilities.

3. Type 1 Diabetes Prevention:
diabetes_worldwideType 1 diabetes strikes at an early age and isn’t as prevalent as Type 2 diabetes, which comes on in middle age. But cases have been rising fast nonetheless, and explanations range from nutritional causes to contaminants and fungi. But the report gives hope that kids of the future won’t have to give themselves daily insulin shots, thanks to “genomic-editing-and-repairing” that it expects will fix the problem before it sets in. As it specifies:

The human genome engineering platform will pave the way for the modification of disease-causing genes in humans, leading to the prevention of type I diabetes, among other ailments.

4. No More Food Shortages:
GMO_seedsContrary to what many speculative reports and futurists anticipate, the report indicates that by the year 2025, there will be no more food shortages in the world. Thanks to a combination of lighting and genetically-modified crops, it will be possible to grow food quickly and easily in a plethora of different environments. As it says in the report:

In 2025, genetically modified crops will be grown rapidly and safely indoors, with round-the-clock light, using low energy LEDs that emit specific wavelengths to enhance growth by matching the crop to growth receptors added to the food’s DNA. Crops will also be bred to be disease resistant. And, they will be bred for high yield at specified wavelengths.

5. Simple Electric Flight:
Solar Impulse HB-SIA prototype airplane attends his first flight over PayerneThe explosion in the use of electric aircraft (be they solar-powered or hydrogen fueled) in the past few decades has led to predictions that by 2025, small electric aircraft will offset commercial flight using gas-powered, heavy jets. The report says advances in lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen storage will make electric transport a reality:

These aircraft will also utilize new materials that bring down the weight of the vehicle and have motors with superconducting technology. Micro-commercial aircraft will fly the skies for short-hop journeys.

6. The Internet of Things:
internet-of-things-2By 2025, the internet is likely to expand into every corner of life, with growing wifi networks connecting more people all across the world. At the same time, more and more in the way of devices and personal possessions are likely to become “smart” – meaning that they will can be accessed digitally and networked to other things. In short, the internet of things will become a reality. And the speed at which things move will vastly increase due to proposed solutions to the computing bottleneck.

Here’s how the report puts it:

Thanks to the prevalence of improved semiconductors, graphene-carbon nanotube capacitators, cell-free networks of service antenna, and 5G technology, wireless communications will dominate everything, everywhere.

7. No More Plastic Garbage:
110315-N-IC111-592Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (aka. the Pacific Trash Vortex), the mass of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean that measures somewhere between 700,000 and 15,000,000 square kilometres (270,000 – 5,800,000 sq mi)? Well, according to the report, such things will become a thing of the past. By 2025, it claims, the “glucose economy” will lead to the predominance of packaging made from plant-derived cellulose (aka. bioplastics).

Because of this influx of biodegradable plastics, there will be no more permanent deposits of plastic garbage filling our oceans, landfills, and streets. As it says:

Toxic plastic-petroleum packaging that litters cities, fields, beaches, and oceans, and which isn’t biodegradable, will be nearing extinction in another decade. Thanks to advancements in the technology related to and use of these bio-nano materials, petroleum-based packaging products will be history.

8. More Precise Drugs:
drugsBy 2025, we’ll have sophisticated, personalized medicine, thanks to improved production methods, biomedical research, and the growth of up-to-the-minute health data being provided by wearable medical sensors and patches. The report also offers specific examples:

Drugs in development are becoming so targeted that they can bind to specific proteins and use antibodies to give precise mechanisms of action. Knowledge of specific gene mutations will be so much more advanced that scientists and physicians can treat those specific mutations. Examples of this include HER2 (breast cancer), BRAF V600 (melanoma), and ROS1 (lung cancer), among many others.

9. DNA Mapping Formalized:
DNA-1Recent explosions in genetic research – which include the Genome Project and ENCODE – are leading to a world where personal genetic information will become the norm. As a result, kids born in 2025 will be tested at the DNA level, and not just once or twice, but continually using nano-probes inserted in the body. The result will be a boon for anticipating genetic diseases, but could also raise various privacy-related issues. As it states:

In 2025, humans will have their DNA mapped at birth and checked annually to identify any changes that could point to the onset of autoimmune diseases.

10. Teleportation Tested:
quantum-entanglement1Last, but certainly not least, the report says research into teleportation will be underway. Between the confirmation of the Higgs Boson (and by extension, the Standard Model of particle physics), recent revelations about quantum entanglements and wormholes, and the discovery of the Amplituhedron, the field of teleportation is likely to produce some serious breakthroughs. No telling what these will be – be it the ability to teleport simple photons or something larger – but the fact that the research will be happening seems a foregone conclusion:

We are on the precipice of this field’s explosion; it is truly an emerging research front. Early indicators point to a rapid acceleration of research leading to the testing of quantum teleportation in 2025.

Will all of these changes come to pass? Who knows? If history has taught us anything, it’s that predictions are often wrong and much in the way of exciting research doesn’t always make it to the market. And as always, various factors – such as politics, money, public resistance, private interests – have a way of complicating things. However, there is reason to believe that the aforementioned 10 things will become a viable reality. And Moftah believes we should be positive about the future:

[The predictions] are positive in nature because they are solutions researchers and scientists are working on to address challenges we face in the world today. There will always be obstacles and issues to overcome, but science and innovation give us hope for how we will address them.

I, for one, am happy and intrigued to see certain items making this list. The explosion in solar usage, bioplastics, and the elimination of food scarcity are all very encouraging. If there was one thing I was anticipating by 2025, it was increased drought and food shortages. But as the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. And as someone who has had two grandmothers who lived into their nineties and have both suffered from the scourges of dementia, it is good to know that this disease will be on the wane for future generations.

It is also encouraging to know that there will be better treatments for diseases like cancer, HIV, and diabetes. While the idea of a world in which all diseases are preventable and/or treatable worries some (on a count of how it might stoke overpopulation), no one who has ever lived with this disease, or known someone who has, would think twice if presented with a cure. And hardship, hunger, a lack of education, resources and health services are some of the main reasons for population explosions.

And, let’s face it, its good to live in an age where the future looks bright for a change. After a good century of total war, totalitarianism, atomic diplomacy, terrorism, and oh so much existential angst and dystopian fiction, it’s nice to think that the coming age will turn out alright after all.