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Could That 'Star Trek' Gadget Soon Be Diagnosing You?

If you're a fan of the original Star Trek TV series and its myriad spin-offs, you may remember the  medical tricorder - a futuristic gadget with special handheld sensors that the Enterprise's intrepid crew used to check the vital signs of an injured or sick person.

Pretty amazing, huh? Wouldn't it be cool to actually have a gizmo like that to monitor your vital signs? Well, there's a good chance that a real-life version of the Star Trek device will be available to consumers in the near future.

One of the most promising contenders is the Scout, a digital health monitoring device that's being developed by medical technology startup Scanadu. Mashable reports that when you hold the gadget to your forehead for just 10 seconds,  it checks your temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen level, and other important measures, and then relays the information to an app in your smartphone.

Scanadu's founder and chief executive, Belgian-born internet entrepreneur Walter De Brouwer, got the idea for developing a tricorder not from watching Bones on TV, but from spending a lot of time in the intensive care unit after his then-six-year-old son sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2006. As this Fast Company article details, De Brouwer spent three months by his son's bedside, and learned to read and log the monitoring machines that watched for trends and abnormalities in his son's condition, so that he could ask his doctors better-informed questions. After his son, who remains partially paralyzed on the right side of his body, was released from the hospital, De Brouwer wished that he still had that continuous stream of information. That led him to launch the project that led to the Scout.

"With your smart phone, you can find information about anything, anywhere," explains Scanadu's chief medical officer, Dr. Alan Greene. "But what you can't find is information about your own body."

Scanadu is raising money through the crowdsourcing site indiegogo. It's offering investors a chance to help test the device, which it needs to do before it can obtain the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market its product to the public. The company is also one of multiple contenders for the X Prize Foundation's medical tricorder contest, which is offering $10 million to the first party that develops a clone of the Star Trek device that's capable of capturing health metrics and diagnosing 15 different diseases.

The foundation has a pretty good track record on stimulating technological advances; it's the same group that sponsored the $10 million competition to develop and fly a privately built reusable spacecraft in the early 2000s.


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