The list of potential winners of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE has been whittled down to 10. The aim of the project is to make science fiction science fact, encouraging the creation of a medical scanning device that 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.
Die-hard Star Trek fans might want to temper their excitement a little, as it is highly unlikely that the final product will bear too great a resemblance to the scanner seen on the big screen. Nonetheless the devices being developed 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, seen by many as essential in a world where healthcare systems are often strained to breaking point. In order to win 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.
In order to satisfy the criteria, the apparatus must also diagnose 13 core diseases, including pneumonia, tuberculosis and diabetes, along with three additional health conditions to be chosen by each team. 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 is likely that the final appearance and composition of the various scanners will differ greatly upon completion, as the only limitations placed on the teams in terms of construction is that the entire apparatus must have a mass of less than 5 lb (2.3 kg). 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, which is developing a portfolio of products designed to "put the experience of an emergency room in the palm of your hand," and Aezon, an American-based team comprised of student engineers from Johns Hopkins University, Maryland.
Aezon proposes to use several components in order to collect the requisite data. Currently, the Aezon device is made up of a wearable Vitals Monitoring Unit, designed to capture oxygen saturation, blood pressure, respiration rate and ECG metrics. This unit is complimented by 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 results of the tests are then pushed to a proprietary smartphone app via the cloud, where it is analyzed by the Aezon web application. Users can also access their test results, discover information regarding possible symptoms and use big data to form a possible diagnosis.
Johns Hopkins University's Aezon team plans to use multiple components including wearable tech to collect data, and present the information via a smartphone or tablet interface (Image: Aezon)
This is only one example of how the teams may collect and analyze the required data, however it appears that many other projects follow the same approach – employing compact, lightweight and efficient devices pushing information to a smartphone or tablet interface.
Here's the full list of finalists:
The next and final round of tests for the teams will take place between November and December 2015. 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.
The overall winners will be announced in early 2016.
The video below outlines the aims and potential benefits of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE challenge.