Tricorders on the way! Scan me, Scotty!

Real life Tricorders are in the works and will be in your hands in a couple of years

Remember in Star Trek when they'd beam down to the surface of an alien planet (accompanied by the expendable crew members in red outfits) which was invariably inhabited by humanoids with bad skin and then Scotty or another crewmember would whip out a Tricorder and instantly analyze whatever there was to be analyzed? It looks like you'll have something much like that in a year or two ...

When Star Trek was written a device like the Tricorder was pure sci-fi ... at that time the range of sensors wasn't large, those that were available weren't good enough,  they were very expensive, and usually very large so packing that much punch in a handheld device was pure fantasy.

Since those days, of course, computer and sensor technology has developed incredibly fast and now you can get an amazing amount of sensor technology in a very small package. Consider the Node from Variable Inc. or the Sensordrone from Sensorcon both of which pack multiple sensors into incredibly small packages at prices that are simply amazing.

But are these products really Tricorders? Nope ... they have some of the required attributes but they are more platform-like than complete systems.

So, how about a device that can tell you the allergens, chemicals, nutrients, calories, and ingredients in your food? That's what a new Indiegogo project, TellSpec, aims to do.  It will also "track what you eat, and based on your reports of how you feel, it will help identify your food sensitivities."

The handheld photo-spectrometer component of the TellSpec food analysis system

Aided and abetted by a smartphone the TellSpec consists handheld laser photo-spectrometer that communicates with a cloud-based algorithm and reports an analysis to your smartphone of whatever the handheld is being pointed at. Even better the TellSpec will be able to analyze foods that are in glass jars or plastic wrap.

While the forgoing products are on the right lines they're not, per se, all that might be hoped for in a Tricorder. In fact, on Star Trek there were two types of Tricorder, the one that was used on "away missions" and another that was used in the medical bay.  The latter is where there is a big - no, enormously huge - market opportunity for a Tricorder-like device.

Recently a company called Scanadu received $10.5 million in venture capital (following an earlier sucessful $1.6 million funding via Indiegogo) to develop the Scanadu Scout, a handheld device that in conjunction with a smartphone will measure, track, and trend your temperature, respiratory rate, oximetry, ECG, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and monitor other vital signs.

Scandu also has plans for a urinalysis device to be called the Scanaflo which will "test for levels of glucose, protein, leukocytes, nitrates, blood, bilirubin, urobilinogen, specific gravity, and pH in urine. It will also test for pregnancy."

The Scanadu products sound like a remendous step forward but there's more ambitious projects in the works. The XPRIZE Foundation in conjunction with Qualcomm has announced the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, a competition to build a Tricorder-like device and there winning team will get a prize of $10 million.

As envisioned for this competition, the device will be a tool capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases. Metrics for health could include such elements as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. Ultimately, this tool will collect large volumes of data from ongoing measurement of health states through a combination of wireless sensors, imaging technologies, and portable, non-invasive laboratory replacements.

Currently 34 teams from 10 countries are in the running and the competition schedule sets the submissions deadline for April 2014 and the final award will be in the second or third quarter of 2015 following extensive user testing.

It seems like the Tricorder is, finally, just around the corner. I wonder how long it will be before I can say "Beam me up, Scotty!"

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