Remember Star Trek‘s tricorder? The device Dr. McCoy usually whipped out and waved over people before declaring someone kaput? Yep, someone’s actually making one, or at least the early 21st century version of one.
Meet Scanadu Scout, a small scanning device by California startup Scanadu (“scan” plus “Xanadu”?) that can quickly grab your vitals, then beam them to a smartphone. The Scout soared past its $100,000 Indiegogo funding goal just hours after launch, then proceeded to more than triple that figure with nearly a month to go
What is it? A hockey puck-shaped object that can apparently measure your temperature, heart rate, oximetry (blood oxygenation), run an electrocardiogram, gauge heart rate variability, clock pulse wave transit time (related to blood pressure), perform a urine analysis and calculate a metric Scanadu refers to (vaguely) as “stress.” All you have to do to get these readings, urine analysis notwithstanding, is hold the Scout against your forehead for a few seconds.
“One of the problems with the current medical system is that you only connect with the system every now and then,” says Scanadu’s chief medical officer, Dr. Alan Greene, in the video below, followed by Scanadu CEO Walter de Brouwer, who makes a great point about the disparity between the recent explosion of personalized devices and biofeedback technology. “With your smartphone you can find out about anything, anywhere, but what you can’t find is information about your own body,” adds Greene.
What typically happens first when you visit the doctor? Right, someone takes your vitals: blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and so forth. I’ve never knowingly had a pulse oximetry test before, but since I had a baby and that baby’s had chest colds, I’ve learned about this noninvasive procedure — a little clip that goes on his foot to check how well he’s oxygenating; the Scout can automatically grab that information, too.
KurzweilAI reports that the device has a visible and near-IR LED and sensor (for the oximetry test), an ECG sensor, a far-IR sensor (for temperature) and a microphone (to gauge heart and breathing sounds). Scanadu says the device was designed based on the 32-bit RTOS Micrium platform, which NASA selected for its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) engine on the Curiosity Rover. It includes a micro-USB adapter and Scanadu says it takes less than an hour to charge; if you use it a few times daily, it should last you the week. The related smartphone app will be available for both Android and iOS and supports the Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Low Energy standard.
Would such a tool be “the ultimate consumer device for medicine,” as Scanadu’s CEO refers to it? That’s probably overshooting. An “ultimate” device is still somewhere in the distant future, waiting to be invented, capable of capturing far more (and far more granular) biometric data. After all, you can measure everything the Scout does already today, you just have to buy the test equipment separately, making the Scout more of a convenient aggregation engine.
On the other hand, how many devices can easily aggregate this amount of medical-grade data, record that data somewhere for analysis and then optionally transmit that information back to a physician in real time?
It brings to mind my father, who developed a heart arrhythmia some years ago that culminated in multiple catheter ablation surgeries — at the end of each, his heart had to be “jumped” back into proper sinus rhythm. For periods after these surgeries, he had to wear a kind of holter monitor that transmitted heart-related information back to a monitoring station. I’m imagining what a device like this might do, assuming it’s sufficiently accurate, for any number of the sick or infirm, currently forced to wear or cart around invasive monitoring equipment, to say nothing of the benefits of having all of this information in one place with a historical data angle and a wireless hotline to the doctor’s office.
Next up: further refinements and potential FDA approval. While its goals are ambitious, Scanadu says the Scout is “not yet fully accurate and not FDA-approved. Hence this is not a medical device.” Thus the Indiegogo funding drive, essentially a beta test during which, depending on your contribution level — $150 appears to be the threshold — you’ll actually get to fiddle with the device.
All that’s missing? A little speaker and sound chip to provide the relevant Star Trek sound effect.