Star Trek is celebrating its 50th anniversary today, and the logical way for us to celebrate this milestone is to have a quick glance at the impact this franchise has had and continues to have on science and technology.
The Original Series premiered on September 8, 1966, and it has often been hailed as the inspiration for technologies that we now use every day, such as mobile phones, personal computers, video calls, and wireless earpieces. The inspiration hasn’t stopped there, though. Throughout its long history and different incarnations, it has also inspired technologies that are currently in development.
Among these, the tricorder is probably one of the most fascinating Star Trek inventions from a scientist's perspective. A handheld device that can scan, analyze, and record data is useful in many disciplines, but could be particularly revolutionary in medicine. And it is not just science fiction.
The Tricorder from the original series. XPRIZE
XPRIZE has partnered with telecommunications supplier Qualcomm to bring forth the age of the medical tricorder. Seven teams are currently testing their own devices in the hopes of winning the $10 million prize early next year.
The competition requires the construction of a handheld device that can capture enough health metrics to diagnose a set of 12 diseases (as well as the absence of conditions). This tricorder should be simple enough to be used by anyone, but provide enough data and diagnostic power to lighten the workload of medical professionals.
“The data generated by a tricorder device will significantly reduce the amount of time a physician needs to spend performing routine assessments and enable physicians to spend more quality time educating the patient regarding their health status and what each patient can do to enhance their quality of life based on data collected outside of the hospital,” Grant Campany, senior director of Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, told IFLScience.
The tricorders of all seven teams are currently in the second consumer-testing phase after receiving very positive feedback in the first tests.
“The consumer testers have been very enthusiastic,” added Campany. “I believe the excitement stems from each consumer tester’s desire to experience the future of medicine since these devices truly represent technological innovation at its best.”
Another interesting medical device is the hypospray – a needleless syringe that uses compressed air to inject drugs without puncturing the skin. The real-life counterpart was first developed by three MIT researchers in 2012. Instead of a mechanical system, it uses an electromagnetic mechanism to pressurize the drug enough to pierce the skin and administer the medicine. The researchers founded a company called Portal Instruments, and they are now working on making the needleless syringes commercially available.
Needleless syringes like this have taken inspiration from the hypospray. Portal Instruments