If Star Trek ever had you wishing that a checkup to make sure you live long and prosper was as easy as being scanned with a tricorder, the handheld diagnostic device will soon beam down to earth and up into space.
While you might not have your blood pressure checked by the nameless hologram doctor in Star Trek: Voyager (whose version of the gadget is the most akin to what we’re seeing today), these things will soon be taking vitals in emergency rooms, battlefield hospitals, refugee camps, and yes, the final frontier. Even the team that prototyped this thing is called—you guessed it—Final Frontier Medical Devices (FFMD).
Oh, and they’re all bona fide Trekkies. FFMD development team member Philip Charron confirmed that he and his colleagues are all “Star Trek nerds.” That would probably be why their lightweight device, whose digital brain can monitor vital signs and diagnose a number of commonly occurring health conditions, won first place in the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize competition. Their model is called DxtER and ironically pronounced just like the name of the serial killer on the smash Showtime series. Creepy coincidence aside, it was designed through the quick-thinking lens of emergency room doctor and FFMD co-founder Basil Harris. Artificial intelligence will give DxtER non-invasive diagnostic abilities that can confirm you have a raging sinus infection thousands of miles from Earth.
"It would be amazing if the tricorder actually made it back out into space again," said Charron, with Mars in mind. "That would be a great application for something like this."
Even freakier is that FFMD believes viable tricorders aren’t light-years away. The technology should be showing up on holodecks everywhere soon, and will be an asset for future missions to Mars in which there will be no sickbay and astronauts may have to medically monitor and diagnose each other outside of the most extreme cases.
Other teams in the far-out competition included Dynamical Biomarkers Group and DNA Medical Institute (DMI), whose Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Lab Technology for Humans (rHEALTH) was funded by NASA.
NASA’s official description of the DMI tricorder and its functions on an rHEALTH fact sheet states that it was "Developed to monitor astronaut health on the International Space Station (ISS) and during long-term spaceflight, terrestrial applications for this groundbreaking technology include point-of-care (POC) diagnostics at a patient's bedside, in a doctor's office or hospital."