In the far future, tricorders are invented and humanity spends many centuries prospering due in part to their widespread adoption. It’s too early to tell whether we’re on that timeline or a different one, but rest assured that one part of Gene Roddenberry’s quixotic vision for the future has indeed come to pass. Tricorders are coming to the mass market, courtesy of the just-awarded Tricorder XPrize.
The $ 2.5 million first prize went to Final Frontier Medical Devices, a team of seven including four Trekkie siblings, for their DxtER diagnostic device (below).
Dynamical Biomarkers Group took second place. Their XPrize entry, designated T06 (below), is sleek, neat and color-coded. It even has a housing. And it strongly resembles an HP printer.
Tricorders in the Star Trek universe are capable of scanning almost all species, making their wielders capable of diagnosing nearly any health problem. The goals for the XPrize are less ambitious, but that’s fair for a first real attempt at achieving the simply phrased Utopian ideal of the tricorder. Entrant devices had to be capable of diagnosing 13 medical conditions: 12 common maladies, plus the absence of a problem.
DxtER is capable of diagnosing 34 conditions, and it could probably do more if there wasn’t a weight limit for the XPrize. But that won’t be a limiting factor in the commercial marketplace, where there’s room for a benchtop expansion kit. Such a kit would be in line with the approach the Final Frontiers team took. DxtER consists of a tablet and a shoebox-size accompaniment of sensors and dongles. It would be easy to make a more sophisticated kit for relatively little additional volume.
The Washington Post points out that the Final Frontier team was self-funded, while many of the Dynamical Biomarkers team were paid for their work. Basil Harris, the team lead for Final Frontier Medical Devices, 3D-printed the team’s prototypes in his home office. His kids helped with sanding and wiring up the printed components. Meanwhile, HTC was doing the prototypes for Dynamical Biomarkers. Very glossy, but a marked contrast to the underdog winner.
The next step for both prizewinning teams is to move forward with development on two fronts: IP and the FDA. Harris has applied for seven patents as a result of DxtER’s development. One of them is a remarkable finger cuff that could be used in lieu of lancets, to measure blood glucose, white blood cell count, and hemoglobin levels. That could end up being great news, assuming that the notion makes it through FDA approval — and doesn’t go the way of Theranos.
(Top image is of three of the Harris brothers, clowning with a prototype tricorder. Credit: XPrize)