Scientists build Star Trek-style tricorder that scans for signs of disease

To take a reading, the Scanadu Scout is held on a person’s temple for 10 seconds. Built-in sensors then establish body temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and more. It works in a similar way to the medical tricorder used in Star Trek, which could scan a person’s body for vital signs

Imagine a world where a handheld gadget scans your body and diagnoses illnesses in seconds – reducing hospital visits and potentially saving your life.

It may sound like the work of science fiction but engineers in California have taken their lead from the Star Trek franchise and developed a real-life version of the show’s medical tricorder.

The Scanadu Scout can read a person’s temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and more, simply being held against their forehead.

A prototype of the Scout was first unveiled in 2012 and the latest model is on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas.

The portable electronic device contains a variety of different sensors, plus a microphone on the top of the gadget, that can read five vital signs.

These include body temperature, heart rate, oximetry (blood oxygen levels), ECG waves, heart rate variability and pulse wave transit time (PWTT) – the time it takes for a heartbeat to reach somewhere else in a person’s body. PWTT is related to blood pressure. Its makers claim the device is 99 per cent accurate in less than 10 seconds.

It was developed by Scanadu’s CEO Walter De Brouwer, pictured, at Nasa’s Ames Research Centre. A prototype was first unveiled in 2012 and the latest model is on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas. Its makers claim the device is 99 per cent accurate in less than 10 seconds

This information is then stored on a smartphone app that patients can use to monitor their health, or can be shared with doctors for example.  The tricorder uses a micro-USB adapter that can be hooked into a USB port, and it takes less than an hour to charge the battery.

When it is being used a few times every day, the battery lasts for about a week, the firm says.

The gadget was expected to go on sale by the end of 2013 but the company has not announced when it will be widely available released.

It will need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S before it can go on sale, but the company is said to be ‘actively seeking this approval.’

As part of this approval process, Scanadu intends to send working protypes to 10,000 people in March.

The Scout is expected to cost around $199 (£120) and will be available to consumers.

According to De Brouwer: ‘It’s no accident that doctor visits start with checking your vital signs.

‘Scanadu Scout provides you with access to valuable data which your body provides every day. Use it  to analyse, track, and trend your vitals with unprecedented simplicity.’

At last year’s CES, Qualcomm set up a $10m (£6.5m) Tricorder X Prize.

The prize is on offer to whoever can create and market a Star Trek-like medical ‘tricorder capable of recording ‘key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases’. It also need to have a maximum weight of 5lb.

A Tricorder is a scanning device used by Starfleet personnel in the Star Trek universe. There are two variations; a regular (engineering) tricorder, pictured here being used by Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy, and a medical tricorder


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