X Prize Offers $10M For Star Trek Medical Scanner
January 12, 2012

X Prize Offers $10M For Star Trek Medical Scanner

A new contest was unveiled this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to see who can be the first to create a “tricorder” medical device like ones made famous by the iconic Star Trek franchise.

The Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize will award $10 million to the first team to create a functional, hand-held tool that allows medical experts to scan for 15 diseases and a handful of “key health metrics”.

The rules stipulate that the device can have a maximum weight of 5 lbs.

The original concept for the device appeared in the first episode of the original Star Trek television series in 1966. Set in the 23rd century, the device allowed the Starship Enterprise´s Dr. McCoy to diagnose crew members with a single scan.

The aim of the contest, say the organizers, is to inspire and motivate modern engineers to “make 23rd Century science fiction a 21st Century medical reality.”

And the concept may not be quite as far-fetched as many think, explained Professor Jeremy Nicholson, head of the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London, to Chris Vallance of BBC News. According to Nicholson, medical engineers have already designed medical equipment capable of detecting symptoms of illness based on various biochemical signals.

The problem, he says, will consist in combining all that complex technology into a single, hand-held device.

“What we use in our laboratory is big - the size of a Mini. The challenge is sticking it all into one device,” and later added: “I don´t think there´ll be many people getting that prize in the near future.”

Nonetheless, Nicholson offered a piece of free expert advice to would-be contestants.

“The most likely sort of technology would be something that detects metabolites,” Nicholson  told Vallance.

And there are other obstacles too, he continued, like getting the approval of government regulatory agencies.

X Prize Foundation chairman Peter Diamandis, however, believes that just the mere existence of the contest could help stimulate and revolutionize the medical technology industry.

“It´s not a single point solution. What we´re looking for is to launch a new industry,” he said.

The whole point of using the Star Trek tricorder, said Diamandis, was that it offered a vision and source of inspiration to contestants. The engineers do not, he added, have to create a device that does exactly the same things that Dr. McCoy´s device capable of.

In fact, said Diamandis, the only stipulations are that the device be “wireless, mobile and minimally- or non-invasive.”

“We don´t have a requirement that it makes the same noise,” he added.


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