Star Trek imagined the medical tricorder—a near-miraculous handheld device for scanning patients and performing diagnoses—as a mainstay of 23rd century medicine. Now, thanks to an underdog team of inventors led by two brothers, the tricorder is one step closer to reality, backed by $2.6 million in prize winnings.
According to The Washington Post, the seven-member winning team was led by a suburban Philadelphia doctor named Basil Harris and his brother George Harris, a network engineer. (In addition to being an emergency medicine physician, Basil Harris has a PhD in engineering.) They competed against 312 entrants—including some with impressive government and corporate backing—in the tricorder X Prize. Launched in 2012, it's a moonshot-style campaign that challenged participants to build a wireless, portable device that could diagnose 13 health conditions and capture 5 vital signs in real time.
The Harris brothers and their team, self-funded and calling themselves Final Frontier Medical Devices, started with an iPad to build their prototype, called DxtER (pronounced Dexter). They used 3-D printers to produce enough parts for 65 units; Harris has also applied for seven patents, including for a device that can test blood, glucose, hemoglobin, and white-blood cell count without breaking the skin. All of DxtER's sensors are non-invasive.
DxtER can currently diagnose 34 conditions; as the team spent the last four years working on their prototype, they expanded beyond the 13 X Prize requirements. In addition to the diagnostic hardware, an iPad app asks patients a series of questions, analyzes the answers, and interprets them for patients. All that information is kept private, though patients can choose to share DxTER's findings with their doctors.
Right now, DxtER is an impressive, even ground-breaking prototype. And it won't be the only one potentially moving forward to the consumer market. The X Prize has committed $3.8 million for the first- and second-place teams and four finalists; the money will help them with testing and development, while the prize's sponsor has also promised to help with production, marketing, and Food and Drug Administration testing. If all goes as planned, we'll have real-life tricorders well before the dawn of the 23rd century.
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