In any of the Star Trek films or TV episodes, it never took more than a quick sweep of a handheld gadget to diagnose the most obscure of ailments. Sure, Bones or Crusher were sometimes left without the proper cure, but they could always get a pretty good idea of what was wrong after just a quick scan.
Meanwhile, here in the real world, time-critical tests for conditions like stroke, pneumonia, and strep throat are often too slow. More problematically, they must be administered by medical professionals. Those in less civilized areas of the world often struggle to get the treatment they need.
A competition was launched back in 2012 to improve the situation, with a $10 million purse for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize. To win, a team must create a device that can quickly and accurately diagnose 16 health conditions, all in a non-invasive way, and all packaged into a device that is portable, re-usable, and easy enough to operate that a medical professional need not stand by.
The conditions, which range from congenital ailments like atrial fibrillation to contagious ones like mononucleosis, must all be detected by a single device that weighs no more than 5 pounds (2.3kg) -- that is, heavier than a Tribble but lighter than a horned Alfa 177 canine.
Teams have until the middle of next year to demonstrate a working device, but ahead of that they submitted proposals for how their devices would work. Twenty-one proposals were received, and from those the XPrize judging panel chose 10 finalists.
Aezon (US) -- Student engineers from Johns Hopkins University partnering with the Center for Bioengineering Innovation & Design.
CloudDX (Canada) -- From medical devices manufacturer Biosign and led by company chief medical officer Dr. Sonny Kohli.
Danvantri (India) -- From technology manufacturer American Megatrends India and led by company director and CEO Sridharan Mani.
DMI (US) -- Led by Dr. Eugene Y. Chan of the DNA Medicine Institute partnering with NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dynamical Biomarkers Group (Taiwan) -- Physicians, scientists and engineers led by Harvard Medical School professor Chung-Kang Peng.
Final Frontier Medical Devices (US) -- Led by the founders of Basil Leaf Technologies, brothers Dr. Basil Harris, an emergency room physician, and George Harris, a network engineer.
MESI Simplifying Diagnostics (Slovenia) -- From diagnostic medical device manufacturer MESI and led by company CEO Jakob Susteric.
SCANADU (US) -- From Silicon Valley-based start-up SCANADU, led by technology entrepreneur and company co-founder and CEO Walter De Brouwer.
SCANurse (UK) -- From diagnostic medical manufacturer SCANurse and led by biomedical engineer and company founder Anil Vaidya.
Zensor (Ireland) -- From clinical sensor and electrode company Intelesens and led by chief technology officer, Prof. Jim McLaughlin.
The next step is to get down to building the devices, and then to start the actual testing. Tests kick off in May of 2015 and will complete ahead of formal judging in November of the same year. Up for grabs is $10 million in prizes, with $7 million going to the team behind the device that works the best.