Making the 'Star Trek' Medical Tricorder a Reality

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COMMENTARY | Qualcomm is offering researchers $10 million to make science fiction into reality. The Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE will reward the team or researcher who is capable of producing a device that essentially copies the functions of a "Star Trek" medical tricorder. The company is offering the incentive to encourage the invention.

Qualcomm has outlined a schedule of 3 1/2 years for the competition. Researchers must create a device that is lightweight with sensors capable of diagnosing multiple diseases. It must also be capable of taking vitals and integrate all of the data into a product that is simple to use. The researchers must successfully use it to diagnose 15 diseases among 30 people to win the competition.

The company has claimed the device will revolutionize the health care system by giving consumers the power to constantly monitor their own health and diagnose diseases. The ability to simply scan the body without the need for invasive procedures or expensive tests is not a novel idea. However, medical reality has never been able to catch up with science fiction. Now, the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE can finally change this.

Researchers are facing several challenges with the creation of the medical tricorder, and one of the most difficult will be collecting and measuring vitals with a small device that avoids invasive procedures. It has been suggested a successful tricorder might have to measure metabolites. Metabolites, molecules that are the products of metabolism, have never been measured with a small device.

Can Moore's Law be applied to health care technology? In 1965, Gordon Moore accurately predicted the ability of computer technology to double over a short period of time. However, medical technology has not been able to keep up with this pace.

Can the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE change this? The researchers will have three years to make enormous leaps of progress in diagnostic technology. The device will need the ability to accurately measure multiple vitals while taking up a minimum amount of space. If a team is able to create this, it will change the healthcare industry and give back control to the consumers.

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