In the Star Trek reality of the 23rd century, a doctor like Leonard "Bones" McCoy can wave his trusty tricorder over a patient's body and get an immediate diagnosis from the device. Now, ten teams of engineers are vying to make such a device available to the consumers of our humble 21st century.
The Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize announced its ten finalist teams yesterday at the annual conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS). Each team must now get to work on building a consumer-friendly device that can diagnose 15 diseases and measure 5 vital signs. At the EMBS meeting there's been a lot of talk about distributing healthcare technologies, shifting power from doctors to patients, and letting people manage their own care with sensors and data analytics. The Tricorder XPrize expresses this theme neatly with its tagline: "Healthcare in the palm of your hand."
The finalist teams include Scanadu, a Silicon Valley startup that Spectrum has written about before. Another contender that looks like a heavyweight is Boston-based Team DMI, which is building a device that uses a drop of blood for diagnoses, based on single-molecule DNA scanning. The roster of finalists is impressively international, with other teams hailing from India, Canada, Taiwan, and several European countries.
Today's wearable devices can already measure vital signs without much difficulty. But the disease diagnoses will pose a real challenge. The 21st century tricorders must be able to diagnose such conditions as diabetes, stroke, pneumonia, tuberculosis, hepatitis A, and the heart condition atrial fibrillation.
The devices will be judged on both diagnostic accuracy and consumer experience in the second half of 2015, and the $10 million in prize money will be parceled out to the top three teams in 2016. And the gadgets could potentially wind up in medicine cabinets not long after that: the XPrize says that the FDA will consult with the teams throughout the competition to prepare them for regulatory review.