In the Star Trek universe, doctors use devices called “medical tricorders” to collect patient information and diagnose diseases. Now real-life versions of those tricorders — in this case, lightweight devices that can diagnose 13 different conditions — are popping up. Unlike the Star Trek tricorders, these devices can be used by patients themselves.
The Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, a $US10 million, four-year long competition challenging teams to build their own tricorders, announced its winning teams in early April. The grand prize winner — a team led by Dr. Basil Harris, an emergency room physician, and his brother George Harris, a network engineer — took home $US2.6 million to turn their device into a consumer product. They beat more than 300 teams from 38 countries.
The Harris team’s tricorder involves a hardware kit that connects to an iPad app to guide users through the diagnostic process. The device can diagnose a variety of common ailments, including anemia, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, sleep apnea, and urinary tract infections.
“I thought, ‘This thing can’t be that hard, it’s what I do in the ER, making diagnoses,'” Basil told Business Insider in 2016. “I found a small group of people who would listen to me, mainly my family, and we got together and started banging the thing out.”
The brothers’ tricorder allows users to conduct the kind of medical exam you might get in an ER visit — they can listen to lung sounds and heart rhythms, for example. The Harris brothers also came up with new sensors that can gather data on blood glucose, hemoglobin, and white count level without drawing any blood.
“It’s sensors that go on your finger like an oxygen sensor in the hospital,” said Basil, a longtime sci-fi fan.
The Harris brothers are already planning their next steps with the tricorder. “We’ve exceeded our objectives and goals, and we’re pushing forward to the next goal, which is a clinical trial at my hospital testing our next generation sensors, getting data to the FDA, and getting [the device] approved,” Basil said.
The other finalist team in the competition was helmed by Dr. Chung-Kang Peng, a Harvard Medical School professor with backing from electronics manufacturer HTC.
Peng, who is particularly interested in providing healthcare to people who don’t have access to it, had already been thinking about building a tricorder-like device before the competition was announced.
“In the long run, I’m optimistic that this kind of system will be used so patients can self-diagnose. Maybe in the future you just need to transmit info to a doctor remotely, who will give out a prescription. Most importantly, this could happen in rural areas that don’t have any health infrastructure,” he said in 2016.
When Business Insider spoke with Peng the day prior to the winner’s reveal, he said he was moving ahead with his device regardless of the outcome. “We’ll celebrate tomorrow no matter what,” he said.
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