Star Trek-style ‘tricorder:’ The latest medical challenge for a prize of $10 million

Star Trek may be a science fiction cult favorite, but it is also the inspiration for a new medical gadget.

The X PRIZE Foundation and Qualcomm Foundation announced on Tuesday the launch of a global competition to create a medical device based on the “tricorder” from Star Trek. The winner of the competition will be awarded a whopping $10 million.

The announcement, made at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is meant to create a device with artificial intelligence and wireless sensing that can make diagnoses.

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"There is a dire need to improve access to healthcare globally and provide consumers with an opportunity to be active participants in their own health," said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm Foundation. "The Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE will incent the creation of technologies that can empower the consumer with the ability to decide when, where and how to seek health information and care."

In the words of a Trekkie, a “tricorder” is a portable “sensing, computing and data communications device,” the BBC reported. The “tricorder” was used in the series’ first broadcast in 1966. Aboard the spaceship, in the 23rd century, the crew’s doctor used the tricorder to diagnose an illness by scanning a person’s body.

But this competition hopes to make a 23rd century dream a 21st century reality. The top prize of $10 million will go to the team that, according to the press release, “develops a mobile platform that accurately diagnoses a set of 15 diseases across 30 consumers in three days.” Information must also be delivered in real time, with critical health metrics like blood pressure and temperature.

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The main idea is that consumers will be able to assess their health condition in any location quickly and accurately.

According to Professor Jeremy Nicholson from the Imperial College London, there are already medical devices that detect chemical signs of illness to assist diagnosis, the BBC reported. He warned that the tricorder will be a very big challenge for researchers.

"The most likely sort of technology would be something that detects metabolites," Nicholson said, the BBC reported. "What we use in our laboratory is big – the size of a Mini. The challenge is sticking it all into one device."

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