Audacious, sure, but is a Tricorder achievable?

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsMarty Cooper, the inventor of the modern cell phone, has on occasion credited the fictional TOS Communicator device, featured in the 1960s television series Star Trek, as inspiration for the mobile phone. While the mobile phone has served as the de facto platform for most mobile health services today, yet another device from the very same popular science fiction series could inspire a new generation of inventors: The Tricorder.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in a "visioneering" meeting set up by the X Prize Foundation, which is working to set up a new X Prize that would incentivize the development of a device similar to the handheld diagnostic device featured in Star Trek. Qualcomm has already agreed to fund the development phase of the Tricorder X Prize (the name may change), but a prize sponsor for the competition (one of the prizes is a $10 million check) has yet to sign on.

For those unfamiliar, the X Prize Foundation has set up a number of "audacious" yet "achievable" competitions over the years, including private space flight; self-driving cars; affordable genome sequencing. A Tricorder-like device is right up there.

"What we're trying to do is develop a mobile solution that can diagnose patients, better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians," Michael Timmons, X Prize Foundation spokesman, told NPR in an interview this week. "So essentially what it would do is enable anyone, pretty much at any location, to quickly and successfully assess health conditions."

Qualcomm Vice President Don Jones provided NPR with his vision for the type of system this competition might inspire:

"Come up with sensors, software, kind of innovative approaches to collecting data and information to make it really, really easy to make a diagnosis. And do it in a way that's relatively inexpensive, lightweight, small, portable," Jones said. "And as minimally invasive as possible."

If it comes to fruition, the Tricorder X Prize competition will become a key catalyst for mobile health devices and services. Actually, after spending the last day and a half with two dozen healthcare "visioneers" discussing the potential future for health devices and services, I am certain it already has.

INVITATION: MobiHealthNews is very excited to announce that next month we will host our second webinar: Mobile Health Midyear Update. I'll be discussing my take on notable events that happened during the first half of 2011 along with a good number of predictions for this year's remaining months. Let me know if you have any tips for what's to come. (Be sure to register here -- it's FREE!) Special thanks to our sponsor Ciber, who will present their take on mobile health trends along with a strategy session on consumer engagement. Tune in July 21 at 2PM EST.