Mobile medical technology has always been a thing of science fiction, but new smartphone technology is now making fantasy a reality. The development of the medical tricorder is underway.

      The Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize, sponsored by the Qualcomm Foundation and the X-Prize Foundation, was announced this year to “spur radical innovation in personal health care technology.” The global competition’s winning team will take home $10 million.

      “We’re challenging teams around the world to basically combine these technologies into a mobile device that you can speak to, because it’s got AI [artificial intelligence], you can cough on it, you can a finger blood prick, and to win it needs to be able to diagnose you better than a team of board certified doctors,” said Dr. Peter Diamandis, space entrepreneur and X-Prize Foundation co-founder, during a March 2012 TED lecture in Long Beach, California.

      “So literally, imagine this device in the middle of the developing world where there are no doctors, 25 percent of the disease burden and 1.3 percent of the healthcare workers,” said Diamandis.

      The tricorder was an omnipresent handheld medical diagnostic device found in the Star Trek sci-fi television series and films. The final round of the contest is expected to take place in three years.

      Diamandis is also expected to announce Tuesday the launch of an asteroid mining company with Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. Film director James Cameron and Ross Perot, Jr., son of the billionaire technology investor and former presidential candidate, are also part of the project.

      Diamandis is not the only one with tricorders on the brain.


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      Tricorder Project founder Dr. Peter Jansen has developed several different versions of a scientific tricorder — a mobile device able to read atmospheric and environmental measurements, much like the Star Trek gizmo.

      Jansen made the schematics openly available on the Internet, and said on his website that he hopes his latest model will be mass-produced and made available to consumers.

      Mobile technology can also now be applied to assist with pregnancies.

      Mobisante’s mobile ultrasound system became available to the U.S. market in late 2011. The probe and software, which currently costs $7,495, only works with a Windows Mobile 6.5-based Toshiba TG01 smartphone. The lack of its support for USB 2.0 makes it incompatible with an iPhone or Android phone.

      Affordable consumer-grade medical mobile technology is currently available as well, allowing patients to take simple measurements at home.

      The Vital Signs Camera App for the iPad 2, an application designed by Philips, uses the tablet’s camera to measure heart rate and breath rate. There are no straps involved — it measures the change in the coloration of the user’s skin to approximate a heart rate, and chest movements to measure breathing rate.

      Withings, a French consumer electronics company, has also developed a body scale, blood pressure monitor and baby monitor. Each device allows users to access and track their data via an iPhone or an Android app.

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