Scanadu Smartphone-Based Tricorder

Scanadu is a clever smartphone-based device that tracks vital signs like blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate. The real news is that you won't encounter this device in a doctor's office - you'll be using it in your living room, car or office.

The concept is introduced and demonstrated in the recent TED talk by Scanadu founder Walter De Brouwer embedded below.

(Scanadu TED talk by Walter de Brouwer)

Scanadu announced Thursday that it plans to start selling this first device—the Scout, which monitors heart rate, temperature, blood oxygenation, and other vital signs—by the end of 2013, as well as a disposable urine-analysis test that can swiftly detect pregnancy issues, urinary tract infections, and kidney problems, and a saliva analysis test that can detect upper respiratory problems like strep throat and the flu. The Scout will cost less than $150, De Brouwer says; he doesn’t put a price tag on the disposable tests but says they will be “very, very cheap.”

The Scout may appeal to the growing quantified-self community, which focuses on tracking everything from sleep to stress levels (see “The Measured Life”) and includes some well-known figures such as the mathematician and entrepreneur Stephen Wolfram (who is also a member of Scanadu’s board).

The inspiration behind Scanadu came from a long hospital stay. De Brouwer’s son received a traumatic brain injury in 2006 after falling out of a window, and De Brouwer and his wife spent much of that year in the hospital with him. De Brouwer, a tech entrepreneur and onetime personal computer magazine publisher, started learning about the functions of various medical machines surrounding him.

(Star Trek Medical tricorder)

For those of us who loved Star Trek in the 1960's, it's incredible to see present-day technology presenting a real-life instance of technology imitating art:

The side of [Scanadu] touching De Brouwer’s head included electrodes and an infrared thermometer. He held it with his thumb and forefinger, one finger on another electrode and the other on a PPG (photoplethysmography) scanner, which measured blood flow. The difference in time between the PPG measurement and a user’s electrical heart rate can be used to calculate blood pressure, according to Alan Greene, Scanadu’s chief medical officer.

Data gathered by the Scout was transferred via low-power Bluetooth to an iPhone held in De Brouwer’s other hand. After about 10 seconds of scanning and analysis by Scanadu’s software, the iPhone shared information about his pulse, temperature, and more. He expects people to scan themselves once daily.

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