Star Trek fans rejoice, the Tricorder is here.
Medical tech startup Scanadu has created a scanner that appears to have been inspired by those of Drs. McCoy and Crusher. The ‘Medical Tricorder’ scanner can take vitals such as blood pressure, pulmonary function, and temperature, and sends them to your smartphone. The device can make the difference between a needed trip to the emergency room or a waste of time and money for conditions that don’t need treatment.
The company just raised $2 million in funding from a group of investors that includes Sebastien De Halleux, co-founder of social network game maker Playfish. The money’s an impressive accomplishment considering Scanadu isn’t even a year old. Founded in January 2011, the company is staffed with a team of visionaries like Walter De Brouwer. The Belgian futurist co-founded Starlab in 1996 with MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte. He first got the idea for the Tricorder while at Starlab but the technology wasn’t mature enough at the time. In 2006 his son was in a serious accident and hospitalized for three months. De Brouwer again got to thinking about leveraging technology to empower people by allowing them to auto-diagnose and make informed decisions concerning health.
De Brouwer is joined by fellow futurist Daniel Kraft, a physician-scientist who chairs the FutureMed program at Singularity University. Kraft gave a TED talk this past June entitled “Medicine’s future? There’s an app for that.” He drives the main point behind Scanadu’s philosophy that today’s health care needs to catch up to the tools it’s surrounded by. As co-founder and COO Misha Chellam said in a press release, we can do a lot better than the thermometer and band-aids in our medicine cabinets.
In its early days, Scanadu is targeting the Tricorder to parents who want to monitor their children’s health better. Watch the company’s trailer to get an idea how it might work.
Scanadu’s diagnostic scanner is being entered into the Tricorder X PRIZE, a $10 million competition launched this past May to develop mobile diagnostic technologies. Their goal is to put health information directly in the hands of “health consumers.” The competing Tricorders will be up against a panel of doctors to see if they can match the doctors in diagnosing an array of diseases.
Wireless technologies are revolutionizing medicine. Wearable scanners that give patients and doctors health information is expected to reach 80 million by 2016, according to ABI Research. The smartphone is already being used to read our glucose levels, check for sexually transmitted diseases, read a digital stethoscope, and give a doctor access to patient medical records. Earlier this year the FDA approved an app that allows doctors to view images from MRI, CT and PET scans on their iPad or iPhone. One company is working on a pacemaker smaller than a penny that will communicate wirelessly to a smartphone. There are even virtual clinics appearing in your corner drug store where you can dial up a doc if you have questions about a medication or condition.
The ‘Tricorder’ that wins the X PRIZE will add yet another tool to our augmented medical reality. Of course, these tools are not meant to replace doctors but to improve how both doctors and patients manage health. It’ll probably take a while for people to learn to trust the Tricorders, as it should. I can totally see parents ignoring “Get rest” and taking a trip in to see the doctor anyway. Until the Tricorders have a proven track record, people will probably head over to sick bay just in case.