Will there ever be a medical ‘tricorder’?

ZDNet teases us that ‘the race is on’, but is it? It’s a great clickbait headline, but the substance of the article illustrates the distance between today’s tech reality versus the picture of Star Trek’s Bones pointing a Tricorder at a patient and immediately pronouncing that your malady was Sakuro’s Disease or some strange Vulcan malady.

Was it that long ago that the Scanadu Scout was the odds-on bet to be the Tricorder? The hype began in 2012 [TTA 23 May 2013] with Indiegogo funding, competing for the XPRIZE, and breathless pronouncements at nearly every healthcare conference. By 2016, it missed the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE finals (with Northern Ireland’s Intelesens), bricked all sold units to date to comply with FDA regulations on investigational devices, and with Chinese money in hand, moved into other testing devices. Those looking for Scanadu today will be disappointed as their website is unreachable. The DeBrowers and medical director Alan Greene, all of whom were fêted on the healthcare scene, are engaged over at Doc.ai with a new mission of decentralizing precision medicine onto the blockchain using AI, using your medical data gathered on an app (of course).

Google X was up next as Scanadu was fading. There were various devices they were hyping and testing as Google’s life sciences skunk works morphed into Verily, but to date they have all petered out, with some questions raised about people and project churn at the Alphabet unit [TTA 6 April 2016] .

Basil Leaf Technologies (as Final Frontier Medical Devices) wound up winning last year’s final Qualcomm XPRIZE with DxtER, which could diagnose and interpret a defined set of 13 health conditions to various degrees, while continuously monitoring five vital health metrics, using a mix of sensors and an AI-powered diagnostic engine. What they are planning to market first is not DxtER, but a single-disease device to monitor congestive cardiac failure (CCF) since FDA approval for DxtER “would take aeons to be approved.”

Urine tests are also a ‘wet’ way into a tricorder state, with both Basil Leaf and the University of Glasgow working on devices which could quickly scan for metabolites in urine that indicate particular diseases.

QuantuMDx’s Q-POC, from Newcastle UK, is expected to launch in 2019 with handheld diagnostics for bacterial and viral infections. In addition to quick diagnostics for outbreaks in less developed countries, they are also developing diagnostics to prescribe the right antibiotic the first time. This is critical in treatment superbugs such as MRSA and MSSA, as well as more garden variety infections which can go wrong quickly. TTA profiled their crowdfunding launch in 2014.

The ZDNet article wraps up with a bit of romance about how a tricorder is needed for Mars, but down here on Earth, the reality is that a tricorder will likely be a combination of devices and analytics, stitched together by machine learning and AI.

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  1. Great round up Donna.

    Innovation in this area is stunted because humans have health data that it is more profitable to ABUSE than it is to USE. Look at what the biggest Cancer Charities have been caught doing to deceptively raise funds from friends and relatives of those dying with cancer to get a sense of this issue:


    I’m disappointed that my opinions haven’t changed much since 2012 eg. at the launch of the Tricorder XPrize competition I wrote: “So let’s jump right into 2020 and here’s your tricoder. Zap. Okay you have these problems, do this, do that, everything will be better. Except people won’t have changed, the problems won’t have changed. Individuals will still chose to behave as they want”


    I think it’s inevitable that we will get tricorders and they will be amazing for Veterinarians but in the human health market their first uses will be driven by financial market forces and these will ultimately undermine Patient trust as they will be used ON us rather than FOR us. You can see examples of this might materialise by looking at how security CCTV is being used in Chinese Classrooms:


    Imagine the mess we can get in if you give marketeers of unhealthy things access to billboards that have integrated camera/sensors that can read/predict your IQ/sexual-history/blood-glucose/etc and pull data from your Facebook/Instagram to communicate with us in highly targeted and simply irresistible ways?