Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tricorder X Prize Contest Targets Mobile Diagnostics

Salvatore Salamone


Contest participants must develop a mobile solution that can diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board-certified physicians.
Contest participants must develop a mobile solution that can diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board-certified physicians.

The 23rd century crew of the original “Star Trek” had access to impressive technology, including the communicator, transporter and the tricorder. Smartphones already deliver communicator-like functions today. And scientists have transported tiny amounts of matter. But the tricorder has remained a work of fiction.

A new X Prize competition aims to change that. Earlier this month, the X Prize Foundation and Qualcomm announced a $10 million contest to develop a remote diagnostic tool. Dubbed the Tricorder X Prize, the contest challenges participants to “develop a mobile solution that can diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board-certified physicians.”

To achieve diagnostic capabilities that can beat physicians, the goal is to combine advancements in expert systems, medical point-of-care systems, wireless sensors, medical imaging and microfluidics.

The exact specifications for what will constitute a “successful” entry are currently under development. Details are expected to be finalized and made available next year.

Initial discussions about the contest have suggested there might be a tiered prize structure. For example, there may be a smaller award in the $1 million range for a device that can perform a specific test. Or the contest might require an accurate—and fast—diagnosis of a particular disease or diseases.

Part of the thought behind the contest is to drive technology development to extend the reach of health information and services to more people. According to contest organizers, “This prize will bring understandable, easily accessible health information and metrics to consumers on their mobile devices, pointing them to earlier actions for care.”

Previous attempts to replicate tricorder functionality have leveraged a bevy of technologies, including wireless communications and diagnostic tools. The X Prize contest challenges contestants to push the envelope.

To that end, the collaboration between the X Prize Foundation and Qualcomm is expected to bring together experts in technology usability, wireless sensors, cloud computing and mobile health to accelerate the convergence of these fields. The winning tool will enable consumers in any location to quickly and effectively assess health conditions, determine if they need professional help, and answer the question, "What do I do next?"

Naturally, a contest like this will garner great promotional benefits from its association with “Star Trek.” Organizers further solidified that connection by getting the ultimate endorsement: "It is great to see two amazing organizations—the X Prize Foundation and Qualcomm—bring the technology of “Star Trek” to life and make the tricorder a reality for people everywhere," Eugene Wesley "Rod" Roddenberry Jr., son of “Star Trek” creator, Gene Roddenberry, said in a statement.

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