Star Trek’s Tricorders Are Almost Here
Stardate: 2014. As Star Trek nears its 50th anniversary, most of its imagined technologies remain light years away. But several startups and research projects claim they can approximate the functions of the tricorder, that handheld device used to instantly diagnose a disease or analyze the atmosphere of an alien world. Just how close are they?
Innovator: Walter de Brouwer
Title: Founder and chief executive officer of medical device startup Scanadu in Moffett Field, Calif.
Scanadu Scout: This pucklike gadget, sculpted by celebrity designer Yves Béhar, records heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, and other vital signs based on the electrical signals in your skin. Scanadu got a $10.5 million jolt from venture capital firms last fall and says it will deliver beta units to early backers later this year.
Innovator: Dror Sharon
Title: Co-founder and CEO of molecular sensor startup Consumer Physics in Tel Aviv
Scio: The Scio uses a photo spectrometer to analyze an object’s chemical composition, then compares it against a crowdsourced library of data. The goal is to peer inside things to see if an avocado is ripe or whether that unlabeled white tablet is an aspirin or a Chiclet. Scio’s Kickstarter campaign, completed in mid-June, raised almost $2.8 million.
Innovator: Robert Downs
Title: Professor of mineralogy at the University of Arizona in Tucson
The Rruff Project: Michael Scott, Apple’s first CEO, donated $4 million to this university effort to identify any gemstone or mineral with the press of a button. Downs, who worked on the Mars rover project, says the software, named for Scott’s cat, can run on spectrometers designed to classify leaf or rock types but has a tough time IDing common metals like gold and silver.
Innovator: Peter Jansen
Title: Founder of the Tricorder Project and a postdoc at the University of Arizona’s Laboratory for Engineering Non-traditional Sensors
The Tricorder Project: Jansen, an artificial-intelligence researcher, has built a phone-size, open-source gadget with more than a dozen sensors. It can provide a personalized weather report, detect X-rays and gamma rays, calculate distances to a target, and a whole lot more. You just have to build one yourself from the blueprints posted online.
Innovator: Eugene Chan
Title: CEO and head scientist of biotech startup incubator DMI in Cambridge, Mass.
DNA Medicine Institute: With funding from NASA, Chan, a Harvard-educated M.D., has built a $15,000 device that can perform hundreds of tests on a droplet of blood. Engineers are trying to reduce its size and price before August, when finalists will be chosen for Qualcomm’s $10 million Tricorder XPrize competition.