It's been six months since the final 34 teams for the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize were announced. The prize is being offered to the team that can create a handheld medical sensor with a user-friendly interface that can diagnose a list of common diseases and read a list of common vital signs. That list of 34 last year was for teams that had not only expressed interest but also completed the full registration and paid between $5,000 and $10,000 in entry fees (depending on the timing of their registration.)
We're still a few months away from the end of the qualifying round, set for August 2014, when the field will be narrowed to 10 teams. In the meantime though, four teams have dropped out of the competition -- Alpha Labs, Doc-in-Box, InSilixa, and Vandalabs Q-corder. Also, the X Prize team has released 30 YouTube videos profiling the remaining entrants. For the stealthier teams, this is the most information that's been released about them yet. For others, it's a two to three minute podium for team leaders or other members to talk about what they think makes their team special, their motivation for competing, and just what they're building.
Click through for the embedded videos, a key quote from each one, and a refresher on what we know about these 30 teams.
"We are doing this project not for a paycheck or part of company, we're doing this because we're wildly enthusiastic about the project, and I believe that enthusiasm and excitement is going to translate to our competition submission. Secondly, because we're new to the field we're not bound by the status quo in healthcare and I think we're poised to develop something very innovative." -- Team Leader Tatiana Rypinski
Aezon is a student team from Johns Hopkins University. The team launched an Indiegogo campaign for its system, which includes a cloud-based smartphone interface, a cylindrical lab box about three inches in diameter and three inches tall, and a wearable device for monitoring vitals signs, including heart rate, ECG, blood oxygenation, and respirations. The 3D-printed lab box uses microfluidics to analyze blood, urine, or saliva and send the data back to the cloud.
"You can have the best technology in the world, but unless people can use it, it remains useless. It's basically the idea to make user interfaces simple in concept, conspicuous in value, and self-evident in operation." -- Project Manager John Omura
We still don't know much about the product this Canadian university team is working on, but Omura said in the video the team's focus will be on usability and design. He also said the team's diversity, including faculty and students from different departments, will lead to strong innovation.
"It's no longer just about a three or four minute diagnosis. It's now how do you start seeing trends and start understanding where the body is throughout the day? So you can see where your high or low points are. So you can see if you go to McDonald's and have that Big Mac, what does your body do?" -- Team Leader Tracy Ingram
BioScanR's focus is on automating diagnosis to prevent misdiagnosis. In the video, Ingram tells the story of his mother being put on bed rest because of a typo -- a three millimeter aneurysm was described in her medical record as a 3 centimeter aneurysm. He believes automating diagnosis will help prevent those sorts of mistakes, giving patients a virtual second opinion to check doctor's work. He also wants to create a new normal where people regularly monitor their health to see the effect of lifestyle choices.
"A tricorder-like device? Something that's mobile? Something you can carry with you that you could take to remote places or disaster relief zones or villages or your grandma's house? It's shocking to me that it hasn't been done. You think about all the technology in the world and it hasn't been done." -- Team Leader Sonny Kohli
CloudDX, a subsidiary of Canadian company Biosign, is working on the PulseWave device, which goes around the wrist and can measure blood pressure and heart rate and diagnose arrythmias. The company has said that it is partnering with another company for blood and urine analysis, and that some combination of the two technologies will constitute their entry.
"Qualcomm Tricorder is trying for prevention, not for cure. So, like brushing their teeth every day in the morning, if people start checking their vitals every now and then, we can see the healthy lifestyle is maintained and that itself motivates and adds more life to the person." -- Team Leader Mani Sridharan
According to Sridharan, Danvantri is named for the Indian god who found the nectar of life, that made all the mortals become immortals. The team is part of Indian company American Megatrends, and incldues experts in hardware design, manufacturing, and software. Sridharan says they can currently measure blood pressure, oxygen saturation, temperature, ECG, and blood glucose, and the device connects via Bluetooth to a mobile phone.
Distributed Health Labs
"We maybe don't have the same financial trajectory as some of the other teams. That changes your ability to deliver, we know that. But it also changes your incentives and therefore the product you build. There's the hurdle of building this for the prize versus building this for what goes on after the prize." -- Team Leader Eliah Aranoff Spencer
This team from the University of California, San Diego sports a diverse team from around the world with backgrounds in a number of different subjects. In the video, Spencer suggests that it might be hard to win using open source technology, which is the heart of their project. But, he says, that technology will be easier to use and scale in the post-competition world.
DNA Medicine Institute
"We're basing this on the Star Trek tricorder and for that you just kind of hold it up and wave it up and down and it makes some noises and some lights flash. But realistically, you need to strike a balance between patient ease of use, patient comfort, and being able to diagnose the diseases that we're working on. I don't think a lot of the teams here have a really good system beyond, the biosigns, of how they're going to diagnose those. I think without looking into the blood it's going to be very difficult." -- Head Laser Technician Samuel Bearg
Like several teams in the competition, DMI is working with microfluidics -- the "lab on a chip" technology that allows close analysis of blood, saliva or urine. The company, which has worked with NASA, uses lasers to excite molecules which allows them to analyze and count cells. Bearg says the mission is to "get as much information as we can from a drop of blood."
Dynamical Biomarkers Group
"There's a lot of people who need very basic medical care and you don't need to do very fancy technology, but some very basic technology that people can use at home. Our technology combines the thinking of Western medicine with the more traditional Chinese medicine way of thinking." -- Team Leader CK Peng
Dynamical Biomarkers Group is working to develop technology that will reduce costs for the government of their home country of Taiwan, which has a universal healthcare system. Their system is a combination of wearable sensors tracking ECG and respiration among other factors, and it sends data to a user's smartphone. The team is sponsored in part by HTC.
Final Frontier Medical Devices
"The era of just putting blind trust in the medical profession, just listening to what they say, is over. Some older physicians might get frustrated when people show up with print outs from the internet with different questions. I think that's nothing but a step forward. That's part of our job as physicians is to educate and explain things so people can make decisions for themselves." -- Team Leader Basil Harris
Harris, an emergency room doctor, says most patients in the ER could get the information and help they go to the ER for from a tricorder-like device, save money, and reduce the burden on the healthcare system. He says their device "recreates what I do in the ER" and is focused on diagnosis and medical informatics.
"The advantages of having a student team is that, one, they're hungry. They really want to do something that's very innovative, think outside the box. The peer innovation eagerness and the propensity to learn is there. The disadvantage is they don't have the experience of a seasoned professional." -- Team Leader Jayfuss Doswell
Juxtopia is a group working on various initiatives to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in underserved and urban populations. As such, their team is made up of five students in middle school, high school, and college who are also entrants in the Google Lunar X Prize. One device, a spectrometer designed by a 16-year-old team member, may have found its way into both projects, according to Doswell.
"We can add whole other dimensions of information when you manipulate light, over just purely acoustic or electrical phenomena." -- Team Leader Austin Russell
This team, based near Stanford, has been in complete stealth mode. In the video, Russell discusses two light-based systems the team is working on. One, the LightR system, is a 3D digital camera that can capture depth as well as width and height. The other is a "realtime hyperspectral camera system that's actually able to identify the molecular composition of all the objects in the field of view in realtime." Russell says current systems cost tens of thousands of dollars and are the size of a minifridge, while his team's is the size of a few pennies.
MESI Simplifying Diagnostics
"With the companies, we didn't have problems. They reacted very well. But when we went to the institutes and the faculties and the universities, those doctors and doctors of science and engineers didn't know what we were talking about. They laughed at us." -- Team Leader Jakob Susteric
This Slovenian team is developing a system that will consist of modules. One will be wearable and on the user at all times, while the others will be around the user's apartment, available for specific tests at the wearable device's prompting. The system will include blood and urine tests and will be designed to be very user friendly.
"For over 20 years my own research has been at the intersection of nano, bio, and physics. The tricorder represents the synthesis of not only the nanosensors like we developed for the Nokia X challenge, but the integration of that into a platform." -- Team Leader Anita Goel
Nanobiosym, which won the Nokia Sensor Challenge, has come out of stealth mode recently as a result of the various competitions. The Cambridge, Massachusetts company made headlines for deploying its GENE-Radar micro-fluidic technology in Rwanda as a portable HIV test. The device's form factor is about the size and shape of an iPad.
"It is not a revolution, it is a counter-revolution, because what's happening in the Western world is kind of socializing medicine, which means the government decides what type of care will be provided. To me, [the tricorder] is like giving back the power to the people." -- Team Leader Zbigniew Karkuszewski
A Polish team, the Photon Institute team is based out of a prototyping company. The team's entry is a "smartphone-centered design with our own sensors." Karkuszewski says the most important piece of the team's technology will be their diagnostic software.
"I don't think you can take the doctor or nurse aspect out of the equation because you still have to have a trained, validated professional determine exactly what's wrong and the proper application of pharmaceuticals, therapies, and other tests. Even if it's 100 percent patient-facing, this data at some point needs to reach out appropriately to a professional." -- Team Leader Matt Johnson
As we reported before, Duluth-Minnesota-based Phrazer pivoted somewhat from a medical translator to a diagnostic device. Their tricorder entry is aimed at clinical rather than home use. It's designed to take patients' medical history and information while simultaneously measuring their vital signs. The company's priority is still to equalize access to care for people who don't necessarily speak the same language as their caregiver.
"We have a design that's very clinician-centric, we are a team of clinicians with a few engineers, and I think that gives us a unique insight into how clinicians will interact with these devices." -- Team Member Richard Boyer
This Greek and American team is building on work Boyer has been doing at Vanderbilt for the past five years. It's a "smart healthcare program" that has a modular design and plugs into the EHR. It combines ECG readings with impedance tomography, a diagnostic methodology that involves sending an electrical signal through the body.
"If only one person in the next 12 months gets a warning sign, goes to see a doctor, and avoids a heart attack, all of this will have been worth it. Checking your health as frequently as you check your email will become routine and, in the end, it's about responsibility." -- Chief of Medical and Science Integration Martin Zizi
Scanadu, which already raised $1 million on Indiegogo and another $10.5 million in venture capital funding, probably needs no introduction. Beta versions of the device were meant to be in consumers' hands last month, but production delays have held up shipping.
"Healthcare is becoming really too expensive. If we can help bring a device to the patient or to a user that can manage and monitor their own health there's going to be a true benefit not just to the patient, but to governments as well." -- Team Leader Anil Vaidya
Vaidya has a background in consulting for pharma, bio, and medical technology. He said in the video he's using those connections -- knowing who to go to for each component piece of technology -- to build a device he hopes can reduce healthcare costs around the globe. The team is working on a handheld medical diagnostic tool that can measure over 20 different medical conditions using a variety of sensors.
"Seeing other kids in the pediatric oncology unit, being one of the only ones to come out of it, that really gave me such a deep appreciation for how precious and valuable life is. Imagine how many family stories could be changed if they had that little bit of extra time that was needed to detect something early enough to do something about it." -- Team Leader Lambert Ninteman
Ninteman was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at 12 years old, and, as he describes in the video, the experience led him to an interest in improving medical technology. His team, part of his Masters at San Diego State University, has finished first prototype of its "handheld medical device capable of physician-grade diagnosis using smartphone technology".
"We are not planning to reinvent the wheel. Instead we're focusing on this patient engagement challenge and we're trying to make diagnosis at home as easy as playing a game or watching a movie." -- Team Leader Babak Esmaeli-Azad
This Carlsbad, California-based team hopes to reduce the "10 billion annual unnecessary doctor visits" in United States by building a user-friendly, confidence inspiring medical sensors that can be used in the home. Esmaeli-Azad contends that much of the curative power of a doctor visit is psychological, and that an effective tricorder device will give users the same sense of comfort and confidence as an office visit.
"The Netherlands is one of the hot spots in the world in biosciences and medical research. That means we can get a lot of sponsors in the Netherlands because they want to be part of this competition. That gives me the opportunity to join forces." -- Team Leader Luc Demarteau
Dutch team Splendo is developing a standalone device that will not require a mobile phone for operation. Demarteau says the multidisciplinary team brings a wealth of experience to the project, but the team is still interested in finding partnerships.
"I think mobile health is changing the whole business model. A lot of people see mHealth as [similar to] all the paradigms of the current healthcare system, which is very curative, driven by the hospitals and the information the doctors need to be digitized. I think mHealth is about providing a totally different experience and reversing that pyramid so the patient is at the center of the healthcare experience." -- Team Leader Michel Nadeau
Nadeau says this Canadian company has a focus on chronic disease management and diagnostics and expertise in scaling, building a platform, and software development. As we have reported before, Tactio currently makes apps that track weight loss, blood pressure, activity, and blood glucose.
Team Gen Z
"It's kind of hard to say 'I'm a teenager and I want to solve a global health problem.' Everyone's going to be like 'Ok, maybe in 10 years you'll go to college and figure something out.' It's nice to have such a supportive group of people here, but I think the whole environment is changing and people are recognizing that young people will be the innovators of today, not just tomorrow." -- Team Leader Neil Jain
Sixteen-year-old Jain thinks his team of students, including teen science celebrity Jack Andraka, has a shot at the competition through outside-the-box thinking. He says the focus needs to be on making an at-home system that targets the most common diseases, and leaves the doctors free to deal with the hard stuff.
"Microchips were invented as part of our project to go to the moon. Now we're utilizing those microchips in order to create affordable, handheld medical devices, and I think it's going to redemocratize medicine." -- Team Leader Rolando Branly
Like Luminar, Aristaeus is looking at hyperspectral imaging technology as a medical sensor, an innovation that comes from the aerospace field. Branly believes hyperspectral imaging will help miniaturize spectrometers. "We're not necessarily in it to win it," he says in the video. "We're here to share information and to give a gift to the world."
"I was trained at a time when the physician sat with the patient and took a very careful history and physical. And at the end of that time they had a pretty good idea what's going on with the patient. The Genie is a software diagnostic tool. Our technology will eliminate a tremendous amount of excessive testing that's being done. We're capturing the intellectual thought process of a master diagnostician." -- Team Leader Roger Mason
The Genie team is focused on, as we predicted last fall, a largely software-based diagnostic device. It will take manually entered data from patients and compare it to a database to come up with a diagnosis, similar to a clinical decision support tool. The device could also serve as a personal health coach for an individual outside the doctor's office as well.
"It's just like the change that happened in the telephone system, where we had to depend upon a switchboard operator to make our calls to patch us in to another call. The paradigm shift that took place was to make all of us into telephone operators, where we dialed our own numbers. And that's what I think the tricorder will do. It makes all of us physicians in a way." -- Team Leader Tom Furness
VisualAnt has an interesting approach to the competition, using its ChromaID structured light camera technology. The device sends light into the eye and then collects the light that bounces back, then uses a database to determine what conditions the patient has based on that. Furness hopes the technology will help improve the quality of life for the elderly.
"This will help millions if not billions. We see this as an opportunity to push the envelope a little bit, bend the rules hopefully not too much. We joined the Tricorder X-Prize not to win, so much as just to play. It was a spur of the moment thing and just, let's do it." -- Team Leader Alan DeRossett
DeRossett says in the video that his team's technology is still currently in the concept phase (or was as of March), although the software back-end is built and "is a HIPAA-compliant medical database that interfaces with the Veterans Administration and Medicare right now". They're shooting to build a device under 3.3 pounds -- the guideline for launching medical devices to the international space station, according to DeRossett.
"We should have been doing this yesterday. The rush is to make up for lost time and to achieve something that is a step change in our own personal need toward looking after ourselves and our own health." -- Team Leader Ben Bacon
This British company has a two part system, according to Bacon -- a vital sign sensor uses an LED light, and a device that analyzes the user's breath. He says the company is strongly focused on technology that will integrate into the existing healthcare system and be helpful and easy to use for both doctors and patients.
"With our specific technology at the moment we will not diagnose any diseases. We approach the physician as if this is a tool to help them diagnose any illnesses. We don't take that decision away from the doctor, because we're there to help with the diagnosis rather than take over." -- Technical Lead Ian McCullough
Zensor plans to integrate ECG, respiration, motion, and temperature sensors into one device to produce a comprehensive home vitals monitoring system, one that will use the mobile phone as a processor. Their device will not diagnose, but give recommendations and tell the user when to see a doctor.
"I think the world of alternative medicine is just medicine from a different perspective. Western medicine shines in acute care and Eastern medicine shines in chronic care. I think the tricorder will empower consumers with information that helps them identify chronic issues before they become insurmountable." -- Team Leader Vaughn Cook
Zyto's biocommunication system is based in Eastern medicine and connected to ideas about chi, which Cook says in the video cured his own allergies. “Using the body’s natural energetic field, a communication link is established between the patient and the computer via the ZYTO hand cradle,” the company writes on its website. “Through this connection, ZYTO sends stimuli and then records the body’s response. This conversation is called biocommunication, and it provides insights into health and wellness.”