Scanadu ‘tricorder’ brings a touch of Star Trek to medicine

The Scanadu Scout sensor, seen during a demonstration at the company's office in Moffett Field, California. Image: IDGNS



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12 August 2015 | 0

It’s hard not to think about Star Trek when you see Scanadu’s Scout health sensor.

The handheld device is being promoted as a tricorder – a realisation of the fictional scanning device made famous by the TV show and movies – and Scanadu’s founder, Belgian inventor Walter De Brouwer, says that’s where he got his inspiration.

“I’m a baby boomer, so we looked at Star Trek as a business plan, not as a movie,” he said.

From Bones McCoy in the original series through Beverly Crusher in The Next Generation to Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram, a wave of the tricorder was all that was needed to diagnose a medical problem. So how does the Scout live up to its fictional predecessors?

It’s not quite as complex or futuristic, but it will deliver readings for heart rate, core body temperature, blood oxygenation, blood pressure and respiratory rate data in a fast, painless manner.

The Scout is held up to the user’s temple and takes about 30 seconds to produce its readings. It has a temperature sensor and an optical sensor that shines red, and infrared light through the skin to measure oxygen saturation and blood flow.

The person being scanned must sit still and refrain from talking for the Scout to get an accurate measurement, but that’s the only requirement. There are no additional probes, sensors or gadgets required to get the basic set of readings commonly monitored in hospitals.

Mobile reading
The results are sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, which presents them in an easy to read form. They are even colour-coded to show you how close you are to a “normal” range.

“Basically, you have the same power as a complete emergency room, but at your finger tips,” said De Brouwer.

As development work continues, De Brouwer said the scanning time and accuracy are coming down through the use of better quality sensors and better optics.

Part of the work is taking place with early adopters, several thousand of whom helped fund development through Indiegogo. This early user base is helping speed along development.

“In a normal medical company in the 20th century, this would have taken 10 years,” he said. “We can now do it in one year.”

Data from the test is being used as part of Scanadu’s application with the US Food and Drug Administration for approval as a medical device. If it gets approved, that opens it up to wider use in hospitals.

De Brouwer hopes that will happen soon enough to start selling the device some time in 2016. He’s targeting an initial price of $199.

Martyn Williams, IDG News Service

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