The future technology depicted in the various Star Trek TV series and films certainly holds a lot of appeal for many of us - who wouldn't want to teleport to Hawaii, live out their fantasies on a holodeck, or enjoy some instant gourmet chow straight out of a replicator? It looks like the Star Trek item that we're the closest to seeing become a reality, however, is the medical tricorder. This May, the X-PRIZE Foundation proposed a US$10 million Tricorder X-PRIZE, with the intention of encouraging the production of consumer devices that can assess a person's state of health. The first potential contestant, which already has a tricorder in the works, is a tech start-up by the name of Scanadu.

Founded in January 2011, Scanadu is based out of the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, and is headed by CEO and futurist Walter De Brouwer.

Although its inner workings are being kept secret, the Scanadu Tricorder is a small, handheld device, that would be used in conjunction with the processing power and screen of a smartphone. In a non-contact, non-invasive fashion, it would be able to measure vital statistics such as blood pressure, pulmonary function, and body temperature. An onboard hyper-spectral camera and microfluidic lab-on-a-chip would also be able to analyze rashes and infections, and process blood and saliva samples, respectively.

Based on these and other measurements, it could then offer a diagnosis, and advise its user on what course of action should be taken. If a doctor needed to be involved, the patient data on the tricorder could be instantly transferred to them. If it turned out to be something that could be treated at home, then an unnecessary trip to the emergency room or doctor's office would be avoided.

The first generation of the tricorder will be aimed at parents, for use on their young children. Although it's hard to know just how far along the device is in its development, Scanadu did recently announce that it had received US$2 million in funding from a group of private investors - that's certainly going to help.

Other products have already made steps in the direction of smartphone-based tricorders. Melapp and the Handyscope utilize a phone's camera to assess suspicious skin markings, the iHealth system helps users manage their weight and blood pressure, while iBGStar allows diabetics to measure their blood glucose levels.

More information on the Scanadu Tricorder can be seen in the promotional video below.

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