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Surprising Science

Will New Smart-Device Replace Your Doctor?

A new handheld medical device that non-invasively measures your vital signs could replace visits to the doctor with digital diagnoses. The machine is modeled on Star Trek’s tricorder.

What’s the Latest Development?

Portable medical devices may soon be small and inexpensive enough to measure your vital signs daily, replacing what would be trips to the doctor with digital diagnoses. One company, Scanadu, has announced plans to start selling its 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.”

What’s the Big Idea?

With the Scout, Scanadu is competing for the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, a $10 million challenge to build a machine resembling the fictional handheld medical device from Star Trek also called a tricorder. “The Scout may appeal to the growing quantified-self community, which focuses on tracking everything from sleep to stress levels…and includes some well-known figures such as the mathematician and entrepreneur Stephen Wolfram (who is also a member of Scanadu’s board).” Scanadu is currently seeking approval of the device from the US Food and Drug Administration.

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