back to article X Prize: Build a Star Trek 'tricorder' and win $10m

Make a portable body scanner that can detect 15 diseases and capture key health metrics and you could win 10 million dollars (£.6.5m). This year's X Prize - a global competition with the aim of improving the lot of humanity through invention – asks entrants to make a Star Trek-style "tricorder" that could revolutionise …


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  1. Alister Silver badge

    Not so easy

    To be fair, there are already plenty of small Automated External Defibrillator, Pulse Oximetry, Blood Glucose meters and Blood Pressure devices on the market, so to combine them into a single unit with a simple AI to recognise common conditions would not be too big a problem. However, to be true to the Star Trek idea, you would have to make all of those work non-invasively (ie without removing clothing or attaching things to the body) which is probably a challenge too far.

  2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Easy but expensive

    Wireless finger clip or similar with small pin.

    Takes pulse and blood. Wireless comms low power BT.

    Either it's disposable or cartridge based.

    The drop of blood goes on one or more of those labs on a chip that exist at least in prototype form.

    Transmits results to med range smartphone with a diagnosis app plus links to a cloud based expert system like Watson or Siri.

    Piece of piss. It could probably test that too.

    All the technology already exists the problems are integration time and the expense of of the disposable bits.

    1. Robert Heffernan

      I believe the rules state that the testing must be done by non-contact, non-invasive means. Just point it at the patient and get a diagnosis. The same as the Star Trek version.

  3. Ron Christian

    Catch 2:

    Don't use LCARS, or CBS will sue your ass.

  4. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    Need more data

    After a little digging around the xprize site, I notice the rules aren't quite fully fixed. For instance the competition guidelines page states:

    "The winners will be the three solutions achieving the highest diagnostic score regarding a set of 15 distinct diseases in a group of 15-30 people in three days (full details will soon be available in the Competition Guidelines). This diagnosis must be performed in the hands of a consumer, independently of a healthcare worker or facility."

    Pay special notice to the "will soon be available" bit as they "are still in development". How easy to do is going to come down to what 15 diseases they pick and the associated metrics that will need to be collected. It will also be a question of how squeamish they decide the "consumer" is.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Not really a tricorder then.

      There was never any suggestion that medical tricorders were usable by normal plebs in ST afaik.

    2. wretched42


      the hardest part of the prize is to find 15 to 30 people to give 15 diseases to.....

      1. Dozer

        @ diseases....

        Send the keyboard to the usual address....

      2. Ross 7

        @ diseases

        "the hardest part of the prize is to find 15 to 30 people to give 15 diseases to....."

        How hard can it be to find 15-30 ppl Paris H slept with?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Make a portable body scanner that can detect 15 diseases and capture key health metrics and you could win 10 million dollars (£.6.5m)."

    Oh you mean it has to WORK?


    1. Rafael 1

      If you could make it work couldn't you just patent it and/or sell to one big medical equipment company for more than <drEvil>TEN MILLION DOLLARS?</drEvil>

      Just asking.

      1. Bertram Joseph

        Certainly. I would expect that you would still be able to if you submitted your design to the competition as well. This is just further incentive ... I think.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        "If you could make it work couldn't you just patent it and/or sell [it]?"

        In a word - no. I've seen a few cycles of medial product development, funding, etc, and functionality isn't the primary goal. Sure, the stuff has to work, and incremental improvements are good, but preventative diagnosis? That's just bad business.

        Try getting funding for something that lets you detect heart attacks via a breath sample rather than a lengthy blood test - if you have the former, you don't need to perform surgery just in case, do you? Would you pay more money to allow your customer to buy less of your product? There's just no business case.

        The best motivator for getting super tech into hospitals is that hospital A will be vilified for not having some tech if hospital B -does- have it. But that's a chicken-and-egg scenario, with everyone starting out with the incentive to not begin the cycle.

        If you gave me the *choice between* the chance of making a hundred million selling the device / device company to hospitals / investors, and the certainty of $10m, I'd take the $10m in a heartbeat.

        As an example, in the 1970s, my father developed a neural stimulation feedback device whose aim was to help patients with spinal injuries recover some muscle control. (This is to the best of my memory; I might be wrong on some details.)

        He got the opportunity to trial his device at a hospital, with a patient who hadn't felt his legs for six months. The trial was a significant success - not jump-up-and-walk, but the patient actually regained some feel and a little toe motion. A big deal, particularly back then. But the executives were unaccountably sour.

        In the end, the hospital said they weren't interested in doing any more work on the project, and he should get his prototype. Apparently, the patient was cried, and begged for it to not be taken away.

        My dad saw similar situations play themselves out in other medical product development and consulting roles. Obviously some better and some... well, not many worse. But it's not good, and I'm definitely not going to be angling for the medical instruments business.

  6. K. Adams

    Dammit, Jim, ...

    ... I'm a Doctor, not an Inventor!

  7. Paul 75

    That's all very well,

    but where will they find someone with 15 different diseases to test?!

    If they get a bunch of MPs together and they could easily detect the seven deadly they count as diseases?

    1. Ian Davies
      Paris Hilton

      Depending on the MPs they could have a range of STDs to choose from...

      1. Ammaross Danan


        "Depending on the MPs they could have a range of STDs to choose from..."

        Dunno about you, but I can think of several STDs (not to mention skin diseases) that are easily identifiable with a simple smartphone camera....Can I haz the $10mil?

    2. Andus McCoatover

      "but where will they find someone with 15 different diseases to test"

      I've 14 diseases, most notifiable.

      I'm just chatting up a girl at the moment in the local, hopefully to make it 15....

  8. Amonynous

    Trek as a predictor of future tech

    It will happen, but only when there is enough money to be made. Mobile phone - Check. Tablet Computer - Check. Medical Tricoder - Not so sure.

    The technology already exists to win the prize, and to do a lot more besides. It just needs significant investment to integrate and build a UI/Software stack that makes it easy for the layman to operate, if not necessarily to interpret:

    Green - carry on as you are / Amber - take a break / Red - visit the healthcare genius bar, and bring your insurance policy + credit card.

    Sadly, the western world has access to non-integrated technology and services that fulfil the need. The developing world is where this gadget would really save lives, and even if it was invented in 2012, it would be 20+ more years before they could get the most basic version to a price point where it could be deployed there.

  9. Graham Marsden

    Simple solution...

    ... give the patient a kick, if they don't say "Ow", print up a message saying "He's dead, Jim!"

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      Of course,

      "He's dead, Jim!" is at the top of the official list of diseases to diagnose.

      No need for a coat, beam me up.

  10. Chronos Silver badge


    "In Star Trek, there were three potential types of tricorders: the medical one, an engineering one and a "standard" tricorder used for scouting out new territory."

    ITYM "standard" tricorder used to make loud noises to draw hostile phaser fire towards the accompanying cannon fodder/security ensigns. This is in addition to really bright hand lamps and people who couldn't pass unnoticed in a riot.

    Fire at will, unless his last name's Riker. As for medical tricorders, one message is "5cc's of something technical and attach a doofer with LEDs to the patient's head" (thereby drawing more phaser fire from something with more latex on it than a dildo) and the other is "parrot sketch."

  11. Dropper

    Call To Arms

    I believe this is a call to CAPTAIN CYBORG!! Just nail some ICs to the patients forehead as demo'd by the aforementioned Captain. Then simply use a carefully aimed tazer - mimmicking a handheld gadget that can read stuff. The jerky movement from the "patient" when the "tricorder" is energised will give the whole thing a 1960s SciFi feel too, so bonus right there.

    Straight out of the Captain's handbook..

  12. M1

    $10m sounds good until Apple ...

    ... sue you for some pie in the sky patent they took out stealthily on anything you can hold with rounded corners that communicates wirelessly in some way or another with any kind of sensor - ever ... so if you can actually do this you'll be lucky to end up with a pint and a ploughman's lunch after they bankrupt you for your trouble.

    1. John Tserkezis

      As long as you don't have to hold the device the "right way" to get a result, I can't see Apple being crabby with that.

      Yes, yes, I'm going...

  13. nexsphil

    not sure a tricorder is the cure

    I'm not too sure the answer to the US 'healthcare' system's high costs is this gadget. If anything, something hi-tech like this would be seen as an excuse to charge even more.

  14. Toastan Buttar

    Weedly weep

    "This entire planet is made out of weedley-weep!"

  15. TeeCee Gold badge

    How to win.

    1) Turn on your iPhone and clearly state: "Siri? How do I make a Star Trek medical Tricorder?"

    2) Follow instructions.

    Note: Sequences have been shortened and steps omitted.

  16. Scott Wheeler

    Lack of initiative

    So - the test is to correctly diagnose 30 diseases from 15 feet? No problem. Just fire hypodermic dart containing the appropriate micro-organisms at the test subject, then light up the "he's got it" light.

    For an extra million I'll throw in the "He's dead, Jim" facility, for which users will require a firearms licence.

  17. Mark Simon

    There’s an app for that ...

    Why is there no Spock icon ?

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