$10 Million Contest To Build A Real-Life Star Trek Tricorder Nears End

Matt Clark/Flickr

Jonathan O`Callaghan 13 Dec 2016, 14:00

“What we’re going through right now is a final phase of consumer testing at University of California, San Diego,” Grant Campany, Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE lead, told IFLScience. “Each team will undergo 39 separate consumer testing sessions, doing three separate sessions per disease condition.”

The team with the best performance across these 13 conditions will win the competition and scoop the prize.

“Our hard work is done, now it’s all Grant’s hard work that has to take over for the rest of the contest,” Basil Harris, team lead for the Final Frontier team, told IFLScience.

His team’s device is called DxtER, and uses an artificially intelligent (AI) algorithm to diagnose a patient. The device comes in separate parts, with a patient using different bits to check their health condition. An app on a phone or tablet then gives them their results.

“We rely heavily on non-invasive methods,” he said. “The design conceived by the contest is that it can be used in someone’s home.”

Final Frontier Medical Devices/XPRIZE

The other finalist, Dynamical Biomarkers Group, operates in a not too dissimilar fashion. It also uses an AI algorithm to diagnose patients, with its various components being stored in a single box with pull-out drawers. It also includes a blood and urine test kit (as does their rival finalist) and uses an app to display results.

“The potential for this technology is limitless,” Chung-Kang Peng, team lead for the Dynamical Biomarkers Group, told IFLScience. “For a family to own such a kit, it will be very helpful because you can gather a lot more information even before seeing a doctor.

“For our group, we’re thinking about areas that don’t have any healthcare infrastructure, like villages in China or India or Africa. So in those places, you could have a tricorder expert trained like a school teacher, and they can use this as medical care for the entire village.”

Dynamical Biomarkers Group/XPRIZE

The price point of the two devices echoes this idea, with Dynamical Biomarkers aiming for under $1,000, and Final Frontier aiming for around the $200 range. Once the competition is over, the next step will be to try and bring these products to market, which faces some regulatory hurdles from places like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“It’s a new realm for the FDA and federal agencies around the world, to have a machine function as a doctor,” said Harris. “It’s going to be a multi-year challenge to get through the regulatory process.”

Considering the potential benefits, though, this is a remarkable competition that could revolutionize medical care in parts of the world. Now we’ll have to wait to see just how good the devices are, and whether we’re one step closer to a Star Trek-inspired future.

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