By now virtually everyone has seen Bones or another Star Trek medical officer wave that magic tricorder near a patient and get an instant diagnosis of their medical condition. That future is the goal of Qualcomm’s Tricorder X prize competition and this year it was finally won. You can’t buy the Tricorder yet but it is now being submitted for government approval.

Tricorder - what is it?

The Star Trek Tricorder is a hand-held medical diagnostic and monitoring device of the 24th century but with the power of smartphones and rapidly advancing sensor technology (the doctor probably now takes your temperature by a quick swipe across your forehead) the Qualcomm Foundation felt that it was possible to build a Tricorder not in centuries but in years or, at worst, decades so in 2012 they began a contest (The Tricorder X Prize) to see who could build a working Tricorder.

The most recent competition took place earlier this month and the winner of a $2.6 million prize was a small group of engineers, programmers, and doctors headed by Basil Harris, an ER doctor/engineer. Their completed device weighs under 5 pounds and can diagnose the required 13 common ailments ranging from diabetes to pneumonia as required in the test. But the device can actually detect more than 30 conditions. Dr Harris says that without the weight limit his technology could diagnose 50 diseases - 249 years early.

The friends and family making up the team was competing against giant corporations and well sponsored and financed teams.

In addition to diagnosing diseases, the winning Tricorder (actually designated the DxtER) remotely monitors the body’s basic condition by measuring temperature, respiration, pulse, and more.

Using a patent-pending system it can even analyse blood and perform a blood cell count without the usual pin-prick so hated by every diabetic in the world.

Part of the conditions for winning the prize includes the weight limit and the ability to measure basic bodily functions remotely with non-invasive sensors to capture vital signs.

Basil Leaf Technologies.

The Final Frontier development team is part of Basil Leaf Technologies which developed the non-invasive sensors that can monitor blood sugar, white cell count, and haemoglobin. This technology is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials and is intended to be used both in a clinical setting and at home or in remote areas far from hospitals.

The dip urine test can currently detect ten substances including nitrites, ketones, bilirubin, and blood. When combined with the mobile app the test data can diagnose an infection and could be used for both pregnancy and drug testing.

The digital stethoscope can detect abnormal chest sounds and assist in diagnosing COPD, asthma, and congestive heart failure in addition to pulmonary infections such as pneumonia. The same sensors will eventually be used to analyse heart and bowel sounds.

Using a combination of the blood tests, voice interaction with the patient, and the digital stethoscope the device can already reliably diagnose diabetes, atrial fibrillation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, urinary tract infection, sleep apnea, pertussis (a.k.a.

whooping cough), stroke, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.

The technology in the current Tricorder design can even detect leukocytosis or elevated white blood cell count - often an indication of some kind of underlying infection.

A Chinese team came in second with their device and expect to soon begin deploying their device with the cooperation of the Chinese government to rural villages. The US team will have to wait years for FDA approval unless President Trump intervenes. The US device is intended for home and clinical use and is expected to sell for about $200.