X Prize organizers want to encourage the creation of a personal diagnostic device that can do medical laboratory-quality testing in patients’ homes

Pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists with an inventive streak have the opportunity to win a $10-million prize, but only if they can develop an effective portable diagnostic device like the “Tricorder” featured in the original Star Trek television series of the 1960s.

This $10-million competition is called the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE. Its sponsors want to stimulate innovation and integration of precision diagnostic technologies, according to the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE website.

Tricorder XPrize Is Designed to Achieve Multiple Goals

Terms of the competition specify that any diagnostic system entered into the competition must be capable of storing information and then sharing that information remotely via the internet. Consumer safety standards must also be met. Including all components, the device can weigh no more than five pounds.

What will catch the attention of pathologists and medical laboratory executives is the specifications for the winning device. As presented on the website, the winner will be the entrant that builds a diagnostic system that most accurately diagnoses a set of fifteen diseases without the involvement of a healthcare professional or facility. Additionally, the winning entry must provide the best user experience for the consumer.

X Prize Foundation Seeks to Shift in Healthcare Delivery Toward the Home

The healthcare system in the United States and elsewhere is “inefficient, expensive, and inertia-bound,” according to the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE (QTX) website. To address this situation, the X PRIZE Foundation developed the QTX PRIZE to spur radical innovation in personal healthcare technology.

Pictured above is DeForest Kelley in his role as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the original Star Trek television series that first aired in the 1960s. He is holding the medical tricorder device that was used to help diagnose diseases and collect bodily information about a patient. (Photo by CMSwire.com)

Pictured above is DeForest Kelley in his role as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the original Star Trek television series that first aired in the 1960s. He is holding the medical tricorder device that was used to help diagnose diseases and collect bodily information about a patient. (Photo by CMSwire.com)

“The looming demographic bulge of aging baby boomers and the rising costs of hospital care are driving a movement to provide medical care in a person’s own home, whenever possible,” observed Gary Woodill, Senior Analyst at Float Mobile Learning in a story on the company’s website. “This is a much less expensive option than hospital care, and it will be one of the major initiatives to keep rising healthcare costs under control.” Float is a mobile learning consulting and research firm based in Morton, Illinois.

Empowering Individuals with New Medical Testing Devices

The QTX PRIZE seeks to drive that initiative to the next level. “Integrated diagnostic technology, once available on a consumer mobile device that is easy to use, will allow individuals to incorporate health knowledge and decision-making into their daily lives,” stated Qualcomm in its online overview of the prize.


Qualcomm’s Tricorder X PRIZE will go to the team that develops a device capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases. Metrics will include such elements as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. Using a combination of wireless sensors, imaging technologies, and portable, non-invasive laboratory replacements, the device envisioned will collect and store large volumes of data from ongoing measurement of health status. (Photo copyright TricorderXPrize.com)

Driving the explosion in self-diagnosis and at-home monitoring are advances in various technologies. These include artificial intelligence, wireless sensing, imaging diagnostics, lab-on-a-chip, and molecular biology. This convergence of technologies will help to make healthcare more convenient, affordable, and accessible, Qualcomm claimed in its overview.

Tricorder X Prize Entrant Soon to Have Commercially Available Device

Many companies are trying to develop a tricorder, according to a story published in The Economist. One early entrant is a Silicon Valley startup called Scanadu. It began work on the medical tricorder in early 2011.

The company’s new device is called the Scanadu SCOUT . It will provide consumers with precise vital health information within seconds, according to a story recently issued by gizmodo.com. The unit is a tiny hardware device that reads vital health information on contact.

To use the Scout, the consumer simply touches the device to his or her left temple. Scout reads pulse transit time, heart rate, electrical heart activity, temperature, heart rate variability, and blood oxygenation within ten seconds. It then transmits this information to a smartphone app. The mobile phone displays the information for the consumer. The device also allows for storage of the information for tracking purposes.

“Health decisions [should] be based on …a real, accurate and personalized healthfeed of data, which we now have the power to give to the consumer in the palm of their hand,” declared Walter De Brouwer, Ph.D., founder of Scanadu.

Scandou’s Scout will cost about $150. It is expected to be available by the end of this year.

Pathologists May See Such a Device Become a Reality

Clinical laboratory scientists and pathologists can consider this another example of how technology wonks are envisioning a world of dispersed clinical laboratory testing. These wonks are then willing to seed development efforts with incentives such as the $10-million Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE that would reward any successful effort that brings together the technologies that make it possible for patients to perform accurate diagnostic medical lab tests in their homes.

—Pamela Scherer McLeod


Related Information:

mHealth poised to explode, expert says

DIY Healthcare: Consumer Self-diagnosis And Treatment

Holy Spock! The Star Trek Medical Tricorder Is Real, And It’s Only $150

The dream of the medical tricorder

Top 10 ‘Star Trek’ Technologies that Actually Came True

How William Shatner Changed the World