By Ariel Schwartz
Get excited, Star Trek fans and self-tracking enthusiasts: your real-life tricorder is now available for pre-order.
Scanadu, a startup based at the NASA Ames Research Center, has been working on a non-invasive tricorder for over two years. By the end of 2012, the company had a prototype ready--a handheld Yves Behar-designed device that tracks pulse transit time (to measure blood pressure), temperature, ECG, oximetry, heart rate, and breathing rate. A 10 second scan of a person's temple yields data that has a 99% accuracy rate. That information is automatically sent via Bluetooth to the user's smartphone.
Today, the Scanadu Scout tricorder is available for pre-order on Indiegogo. It's a chance for early adopters to check out Scanadu's technology, and an opportunity for Scanadu to gather some of the data it needs for FDA approval.
The first 1,000 devices ordered on Indiegogo will cost $149, but the price goes up to $199 after that. Originally, Scanadu hoped to price the Scout at $150 across the board, but had to shift because the newest version of the Scout has expanded horsepower (from 8 to 32 bits) and now runs on Micrium, the operation system that NASA uses for Mars sample analysis on the Curiosity rover. Scanadu co-founder Walter De Brouwer, an entrepreneur who first created a backpack-sized tricorder in the 1990s, decided to add in a big horsepower-hogging extra feature to the new Scout: the ability to remotely trigger new algorithms and plug in new sensors (like a spectrometer).
"If we find new algorithms to find relationships between several readings, we can use more of the sensors than we would first activate," says De Brouwer. "If you know a couple of the variables, you could statistically predict that something is going to happen. The more data we have, the more we can also predict, because we're using data mining at the same time as statistics." One of the Scout's cornerstone algorithms, for example, allows it to read blood pressure without the cuff that we're all so used to seeing in doctor's offices. In the future, Scanadu could discover an algorithm that connects, age, weight, blood pressure, and heart rate with some other variable--and then remotely trigger that relationship.
The Scout doesn't yet have FDA approval, which is part of the reason for running an Indiegogo campaign. Everyone who pre-orders a Scout has their data sent to a cloud service, where Scanadu will collect it in a big file for the FDA. "It's going to be a consumer product in the future, but right now we are positioning it as a research tool so that it can be used to finalize the design and collect data to eventually gain regulatory approval," says De Brouwer. "In the end, you have to prove how people are going to use the device, how many times a day, and how they are going to react to the information."
Anyone who opts-in will also gain access to the data of other users who have also elected to share their vitals. People will be able to tweak search parameters (i.e. body temperatures in California) to see only what's relevant for them. In the future, De Brouwer imagines this could be used for population scanning, kind of like Google Flu Trends with data from real individuals. If your child has flu symptoms, you could one day search the Scout's stats to see if other kids at her school are also sick.
"I think very soon we will be used to numbers and readings and how to change our behavior almost in real time," says De Brouwer. He believes that separating people from self-tracking devices will be "like taking your email away."
There are no algorithms in place yet to warn users if their vitals are abnormal, but that's on De Brouwer's to-do list. And based on feedback from Indiegogo supporters, Scanadu may add in new features before releasing the Scout to consumers.
Scanadu also has another product, the ScanaFlo, that will be submitted for FDA approval in July. That urine testing kit uses a smartphone app to check for an array of issues with the liver, kidney, metabolism, and urinary tract. Peeing on a ScanaFlo paddle allows the device to measure protein, glucose, leukocytes, nitrates, bilirubin, blood, urobilinogen, specific gravity, urine pH--and it checks for pregnancy. Everyone who pre-orders a Scout will get two ScanaFlo paddles.
"We're all very proud of the design and how it performs. With the smartphone app that we have, it will perform better than the $10,000 machines you can now buy," says De Brouwer. Data from both the Scout and the ScanaFlo will be available on the app.
No word on when the ScanaFlo will go on sale, but Indiegogo backers can expect to receive their Scouts in the first quarter of 2014.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.