Audacious, sure, but is a Tricorder achievable?

By: Brian Dolan | Jun 16, 2011        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsMarty Cooper, the inventor of the modern cell phone, has on occasion credited the fictional TOS Communicator device, featured in the 1960s television series Star Trek, as inspiration for the mobile phone. While the mobile phone has served as the de facto platform for most mobile health services today, yet another device from the very same popular science fiction series could inspire a new generation of inventors: The Tricorder.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in a “visioneering” meeting set up by the X Prize Foundation, which is working to set up a new X Prize that would incentivize the development of a device similar to the handheld diagnostic device featured in Star Trek. Qualcomm has already agreed to fund the development phase of the Tricorder X Prize (the name may change), but a prize sponsor for the competition (one of the prizes is a $10 million check) has yet to sign on.

For those unfamiliar, the X Prize Foundation has set up a number of “audacious” yet “achievable” competitions over the years, including private space flight; self-driving cars; affordable genome sequencing. A Tricorder-like device is right up there.

“What we’re trying to do is develop a mobile solution that can diagnose patients, better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians,” Michael Timmons, X Prize Foundation spokesman, told NPR in an interview this week. “So essentially what it would do is enable anyone, pretty much at any location, to quickly and successfully assess health conditions.”

Qualcomm Vice President Don Jones provided NPR with his vision for the type of system this competition might inspire:

“Come up with sensors, software, kind of innovative approaches to collecting data and information to make it really, really easy to make a diagnosis. And do it in a way that’s relatively inexpensive, lightweight, small, portable,” Jones said. “And as minimally invasive as possible.”

If it comes to fruition, the Tricorder X Prize competition will become a key catalyst for mobile health devices and services. Actually, after spending the last day and a half with two dozen healthcare “visioneers” discussing the potential future for health devices and services, I am certain it already has.

INVITATION: MobiHealthNews is very excited to announce that next month we will host our second webinar: Mobile Health Midyear Update. I’ll be discussing my take on notable events that happened during the first half of 2011 along with a good number of predictions for this year’s remaining months. Let me know if you have any tips for what’s to come. (Be sure to register here — it’s FREE!) Special thanks to our sponsor Ciber, who will present their take on mobile health trends along with a strategy session on consumer engagement. Tune in July 21 at 2PM EST.

  • Christopher Wasden

    one requirement must be that the solution must be scalable. If you look at so many pilots and prototypes, they go no where because they aren’t turnkey and scalable.

  • Mister Biggs

    Nice idea, but remember – Dr. Bones was the only Star Trek crew member qualified to operate the Tricorder.

  • MobiHealthNews

    Is that right? I’m not very up on the Trekkie trivia. After reading some of the scripts though there was at least one time when Spock was using it. 

  • Ennan_hamill

    In trek there’s two kinds of tricorder – standard and medical. Standard is like an all round scanner for survey of stuff – plants, animals, materials, radiation etc and the medical one is obviously for medical related stuff.
    Bones used the medical tricorder since he was a doctor but all medical staff were trained to use one. All science officers used the standard tricorder and could no doubt use the medical one. The difference is that they might not understand the medical jargon.

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