New X Prize competition seeks to make Star Trek’s tricorder a reality

January 13, 2012

The most indispensable tool in the doctor's bags of "Bones" McCoy, Beverly Crusher, and the rest of Star Trek's famous chief medical officers, the tricorder, has amazed TV audiences with its futuristic ability to diagnose ailments by simply scanning patients. This technology may seem far-fetched, but Qualcomm has made a move to ensure it becomes a reality sooner rather than later.

During CES, the company announced its sponsorship of the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, which will award $10 million to the individual or team that is able to produce a working facsimile of the classic sci-fi device. The X Prize Foundation rocketed to fame in 1996 when it offered a $10 million prize for commercial space flight, later won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, eventually giving birth to Virgin Galactic.

In order to win the Tricorder X Prize, a device must meet certain criteria, such as weighing less than five pounds and having the ability to diagnose a set of 15 diseases. In addition, the device must be able to measure basic vital signs, such as pulse and blood pressure, and be accessible via the internet. It's not required that the device have a screen, and the use of external sensors is allowed.

The ultimate goal of this competition is to produce an affordable device that can be used by consumers, in their own homes, to diagnose common ailments and determine if they need to see a doctor for a more thorough checkup. It's something the X Prize Foundation states is "sorely needed," given that "even average levels of service, efficiency, affordability, accessibility, and satisfaction remain out of reach for many whom the [health care] system was intended to help."

Ten teams will be chosen from the qualifying round of the competition, set for 2014, and will advance to the final round in 2015. That's nearly 200 years sooner than the Starship Enterprise's fictional five-year voyage under the command of Captain Kirk.

[Image credit: X Prize Foundation]


This article was written by Randy Nelson and originally appeared on Tecca

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