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Medical 'tricorder' device competition coming in 2012

Medical 'tricorder' device competition coming in 2012

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Mobile phones as doctors? X Prize Foundation will try to make this Star Trek prop a reality in the next few months.

Star Trek's Dr. "Bones" McCoy made no bones about the state of 20th Century medicine -- invasive, primitive, "Dark Ages," were a few of his pejorative terms for modern medicine. In the 23rd century, Bones and other starship crew members used hand-held devices called "tricorders" that instantaneously diagnosed people's injuries or sicknesses -- and healed them as well. "It's a wonder anyone made it out of the 20th century alive," he once sniffed.

Mobile phones as doctors? This vision will be tested, starting in a few months. Photo Credit: X-Prize Foundation.

If you're reading this post, it can be assumed you were one of the ones who made it out alive, and the good news is you may not have to wait until the 23rd century for tricorder therapy. Early next year, the X Prize Foundation -- noted for competitions to in private space travel and moon probes -- announced it will be launching a $10-million-prize competition to any team that can design the first functioning tricorder, that "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?'"  Qualcomm announced it was underwriting the award.

It's not expected that the completed device will have rapid healing powers -- save that for a future century -- but it will have the diagnostic capabilities of a team of physicians.  As asked in the video produced to launch the competition: "What if we had as many doctors as cell phones?  What if the doctor WAS your cell phone?"

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure