A prize of $10 million has been offered to the first person who can design a workable version of the Star Trek ‘tricorder’. The prize was announced at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show.
Can a science fiction invention become a reality? This was one of the questions being discussed by delegates at the CES this week. According to CNet, A $10 million prize is being offered to whoever can design a hand held device which can diagnose a set of 15 specified diseases: the Qualcomm Tricroder X Prize (backed by the company Qualcomm and the X Prize Foundation). The device would be similar to the ‘tricorder’, which was a regular feature of the popular television series “Star Trek”. Both Dr. McCoy and Mr Spock were often seen carrying tricorder devices on the surfaces of various alien planets.
According to this journalist's copy of the Star Trek Technical Manual, the fictional device used in Gene Rodenberry's Star Trek universe - the "tricorder" - is a portmanteau of "tri-" and "recorder", referring to the device's three functions: GEO (geological), MET (meteorological), and BIO (biological).
TechRadar reports that the plan is centered on some type of artificial intelligence physician and the device must be able to identify the 15 diseases from 30 patients within 3 days. Swedish Tech Report adds that the other criteria are that the device must weight 5lbs or less, be easily carried and have the ability to carry out some other, more general types of medical diagnosis. The device must also be able to stream information to the Internet.
The competition was announced at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), the world’s largest electronics trade show (January 10 to 13, 2012). The CES was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center and World Trade Center (LVCC)/Las Vegas Hilton. A number of technological innovations were unveiled at the event including the world’s largest OLED TV from LG Electronics (which the Digital Journal reported on earlier).
The company running the prize – Qualcomm – is an American wireless and mobile technology specialist, founded in 1985. The company’s mobile broadband chipset is used in Motorola cell phones. The X prize Foundation is a non-profit educational organization with a “mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity”, which is done through annual prizes.
According to the BBC, X Prize Foundation chairman Peter Diamandis is quoted as saying after he announced the prize: “I'm probably the first guy who's here in Vegas who would be happy to lose $10m”.
The competition has the backing of some in the medical field. The Huffington Post quotes Bev Collin of Médecins Sans Frontières, who says:
“Local health workers use rapid diagnostic tests for malaria and HIV, of screening tools for anaemia and of mobile ultrasound devices to detect potential complications in pregnant women…Without incentives like prize funds to encourage such initiatives, it not only takes longer - it sometimes never happens.”
Time will tell whether this scientific and technological project, and a Star Trek prediction of the 1960s, becomes a reality.