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We Could All Live Long and Prosper If This 'Star Trek' Device Were Real

Trivia Tuesday: Trekkies and medtech engineers alike consider what "Star Trek" device to be the holy grail of medical diagnostic tech?

Amanda Pedersen

July 31, 2023

2 Min Read
futuristic digital health diagnostic concept illustration.png
Image credit: metamorworks / iStock via Getty Images

Back in 2013, Qualcomm's Tricorder Xprize competition managed to go where no medtech competition had gone before by sparking a funding war between two Starship Enterprise captains.

The Qualcomm Tricorder Xprize was a $10 million global competition to incentivize the development of innovative technologies capable of accurately diagnosing a set of 13 medical conditions independent of a healthcare professional or facility, ability to continuously measure five vital signs, and have a positive consumer experience. When it launched, the organizations said the winning device would enable consumers in any location to quickly and effectively assess health conditions, determine if they need professional help, and answer the question, "What do I do next?"

William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, who played Capts. James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard, respectively, backed different startups competing to develop the "Star Trek" medical device.

“I don’t understand what his problem is,” Shatner quipped at the time. “After all, it’s pretty clear who’s the superior captain.”

The war between the two captains began when Shatner, who played James T. Kirk in the original Star Trek series in the 1960s, put up $1 million to support a tricorder device under that Chelmsford, MA-based Baceolous was developing.

Stewart, who played Jean-Luc Picard on the franchise’s The Next Generation series, responded by calling Shatner a “pansy,” and began to look for a company to fund. He found Touchstone, an electronics company based out of Gotham, WI, and put forth $1.25 million.

In the end, Paoli, PA-based Final Frontier Medical Devices, a team formed by Basil Leaf Technologies, took the top prize. The team included ER physician Basil Harris and his network engineer brother, George, who named their machine DxtER (pronounced "Dexter"). The DxtER is an artificial intelligence-based engine designed to learn to diagnose medical conditions by integrating learnings from clinical emergency medicine with data analysis from actual patients. The device includes a group of non-invasive sensors designed to collect data about vital signs, body chemistry, and biological functions. This data is then synthesized in the machine's diagnostic engine to make quick and accurate assessments.

Taiwan's Dynamic Biomarkers Group, led by Harvard Medical School associate professor Chung-Kang Peng and supported by HTC Research, was the runner-up. Xprize and Qualcomm also launched a series of post-competition initiatives to incentivize developers to continue working on Tricorder devices.

Earlier this year, Nigel Syrotuck, mechanical engineering team lead at StarFish Medical, wrote a blog post published on the StarFish Medical website titled, "Digital Health Utopia - Is the Tricorder Fact or Fiction?"

Only time will tell if a device like the "Star Trek" Tricorder is possible, Syrotuck wrote, but such a device would involve major technological, logistical, and adoptability considerations such, which he went on to describe in great detail.

About the Author(s)

Amanda Pedersen

Amanda Pedersen is a veteran journalist and award-winning columnist with a passion for helping medical device professionals connect the dots between the medtech news of the day and the bigger picture. She has been covering the medtech industry since 2006.

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