$10 million X Prize offered for Star Trek 'tricorder'

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The X PRIZE Foundation, together with Qualcomm Foundation, has announced a new $10 million prize: for anyone that can come up with a Star Trek-style medical 'tricorder'.

The aim is to create a device that gives the general public access to information on their state of health through a hand-held device weighing no more than five pounds.

"There is a dire need to improve access to healthcare globally and provide consumers with an opportunity to be active participants in their own health," says Dr Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation.

"The Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE will incent the creation of technologies that can empower the consumer with the ability to decide when, where and how to seek health information and care."

The organizers have come up with a set of 15 diseases, and says that the prize will be awarded to the creators of the device that most accurately diagnoses them in 30 people, and in three days. 

It must also be able to capture, in real time, health metrics such as blood pressure, respiratory rate and temperature.

There are no constraints on how the device should do this: sensors could be attached to a phone-like control unit, fastened individually to the consumer or kept apart and reserved for occasional use or home monitoring.

"Health care today certainly falls far short of the vision portrayed in Star Trek," says Qualcomm Foundation chair Dr Paul Jacobs.

"This competition will accelerate the development of tools that can empower consumers to take charge of their own bodies and manage their own care."

Unlike other X Prizes, this one's guaranteeing a winner within a specified timeframe. After a series of qualifying rounds, one happy group will walk away with the prize in July 2015. Budding Boneses can sign up here.

The size of the device is likely to cause the biggest headache for contestants. British engineers recently built a £1 million Star Trek-style 'sick bay' for the National Health Service, claimed to be capable of diagnosing more than 40 diseases.

But with several suites of full-sized equipment involved, it's very far from being a hand-held device.