Scientists: "We're Close" to Creating a Real-Life Tricorder

Monday, 06 June 2016 - 10:09AM
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Monday, 06 June 2016 - 10:09AM
Scientists: "We're Close" to Creating a Real-Life Tricorder

At Phoenix Comic Con this weekend, medical researchers were on hand to discuss the state of burgeoning medical technologies, and they had some exciting news for Trekkies: we're getting closer and closer to making a real-life tricorder.


Just like the cell phone and the mobile tablet before it, the tricorder from Star Trek may soon be a reality. At the Future Medical Diagnostics panel at PHXCC this weekend, scientists claimed that tricorder technology is not only close to being a reality, but to some extent already exists.

"Current trends in ultraportable biomedical equipment involve smartphone integration," they explained. There are already several apps that can measure different biometrics in the human body--although not so accurately that they are fully accepted by the medical community--such as blood pressure, heart rate, and even blood alcohol content. And smartphones are now such a ubiquitous part of our lives that researchers believe they are the future of medical tech. Attempts to create real-life tricorders generally involve smartphone technology measuring biometric data and uploading it directly into a patient's medical records.

The closest existing analog to a tricorder, they explained, is Scanadu Vitals, a tiny, round device that measures heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, oxygen level and provides a complete ECG reading through a sensor when placed on the forehead. The device is still seeking FDA approval, but the company claims that early real-world testing has been promising so far.

Opening quote
"Star Trek was more than just a movie, it was a business plan," creator Walter De Brouwer told CNN, and went on to say that the most revolutionary aspect of the Scanadu is that it can be used by anyone: "We've medicalized your smartphone. You can now check your health as easily as your email. People will no longer ask if there's a doctor on the plane, but if there's a tricorder."
Closing quote

But, as the researchers at PHXCC explained, this isn't a tricorder proper, since it isn't able to scan the body fully for illnesses:

Opening quote
"A tricorder has two functionalities. It has to provide real-time vitals, and it has to be able to scan the body. And a lot of the apps only focus on one biometric. Which is not to say that we don't have technology that's close to a tricorder, but none of them actually are one."
Closing quote

Scanadu Vitals focuses on several biometrics at once, so it is the closest technology we have to a tricorder so far, but we're still not quite there yet.

Opening quote
"This seems like the coin we have to flip. We can either scan or get real-time vitals.

We are close. We do have technology that is very tricorder-esque in nature."
Closing quote

But there is still a chance that we will be able to combine this mobile biometric measurement with scanning technology, or at least that's the assumption behind the upcoming Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize. This $10 million competition will allow one team to develop a real, proper tricorder, capable of diagnosing 12 different diseases single-handedly and measuring biometrics such as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature.

Opening quote
"We're on the verge of actually developing these technologies."
Closing quote
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