Real-life 'tricorder' brings a touch of Star Trek to medicine

The Scanadu Scout measures vital signs and sends them to your smartphone

Results from the Scanadu Scout sensor, seen on a cellphone screen during a demonstration at the company's office in Moffett Field, California, on July 6, 2015.

Results from the Scanadu Scout sensor, seen on a cellphone screen during a demonstration at the company's office in Moffett Field, California, on July 6, 2015.

It's hard not to think about "Star Trek" when you see Scanadu's Scout health sensor.

The handheld device is being promoted as a tricorder -- a realization of the fictional scanning device made famous by the TV show and movies -- and Scanadu's founder, Belgian inventor Walter De Brouwer, says that's where he got his inspiration.

"I'm a baby boomer, so we looked at 'Star Trek' as a business plan, not as a movie," he said.

From Bones through Crusher to Voyager's Emergency Medical Hologram, a wave of the tricorder was all that was needed to diagnose a medical problem. So how does the Scout live up to its fictional predecessors?

It's not quite as complex or futuristic, but it will deliver readings for heart rate, core body temperature, blood oxygenation, blood pressure and respiratory rate data in a fast, painless manner.

The Scout is held up to the user's temple and takes about 30 seconds to produce its readings. It has a temperature sensor, and an optical sensor that shines red and infrared light through the skin to measure oxygen saturation and blood flow.

(See the Scanadu Scout in action in this video.)

The person being scanned must sit still and refrain from talking for the Scout to get an accurate measurement, but that's the only requirement. There are no additional probes, sensors or gadgets required to get the basic set of readings commonly monitored in hospitals.

The results are sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, which presents them in an easy to read form. They are even color-coded to show you how close you are to a "normal" range.

"Basically, you have the same power as a complete emergency room, but at your finger tips," said De Brouwer.

As development work continues, De Brouwer said the scanning time and accuracy are coming down through the use of better quality sensors and better optics.

Part of the work is taking place with early adopters, several thousand of whom helped fund development through Indiegogo. This early user base is helping speed along development.

"In a normal medical company in the 20th century, this would have taken 10 years," he said. "We can now do it in 1 year."

Data from the test is being used as part of Scanadu's application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval as a medical device. If it gets approved, that opens it up to wider use in hospitals.

De Brouwer hopes that will happen soon enough to start selling the device some time in 2016. He's targeting an initial price of $199.

The company already has a second product in development.

The Scanadu Urine is a device for home urine tests that monitors protein, white blood cells, nitrites and other particles present.

The piece of plastic contains an array of small, chemically reactive pads on a small piece of plastic that change color depending on the characteristics of the urine. After about a minute of reaction time, you snap a picture of it with the Scanadu app and it deduces its measurements from the different color hues.

Alongside the reactive pads on the plastic strip are several color references to help with correct readings.

"In the future, I think our hospitals will be full of mobile devices," said De Brouwer, "and people will have real conversations with their doctors about real medical things because they will know a lot more than they do now."

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags popular scienceScanadu

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?