Qualcomm to Fund $10 Million X Prize to Develop Health 'Tricorder'

In his CES keynote, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs announced a $10 million X Prize for a team that can design a health device modeled after the "Tricorder" gadget from "Star Trek."

At the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Qualcomm and the nonprofit X Prize Foundation announced the Tricorder X Prize contest to award $10 million to a team that can develop a handheld device to diagnose a patient's health.

The Qualcomm Foundation, the chip maker's philanthropic arm established in 2010, is working with X Prize on the competition. The X Prize Foundation is a nonprofit organization that runs competitions to stimulate research and development.

Qualcomm and X Prize have modeled the contest after the "Tricorder" scanning device, familiar to fans of the "Star Trek" television series and movies. Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy and Spock, the Vulcan science officer, frequently used the Tricorder on the show, Qualcomm CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs noted in his keynote.

The "Star Trek" stories introduced different types of Tricorders, including models for medical scanning, and others for scanning alien environments for life forms or a variety of geological or atmospheric data.

"Health care today certainly falls far short of the vision portrayed in 'Star Trek,'" said Jacobs. "This competition will accelerate the development of tools that can empower consumers to take charge of their own bodies and manage their own care."

X Prize has conducted similar contests in education, global development, aerospace, energy and environment. It awarded $30 million for the Google Lunar X Prize in education and $10 million for the Archon Genomics X contest for genomic sequencing sponsored by drug benefit manager Medco Health Solutions.

Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, announced the Tricorder competition with Jacobs during the Qualcomm leader's CES keynote Jan. 10.

In his keynote, Jacobs also mentioned Qualcomm's new 2net cloud platform, which will deliver medical data from patients to caregivers. He also highlighted the company's Snapdragon chips for Android and Windows 8.

Teams developing devices in the competition will incorporate data from wireless sensors, imaging technologies and artificial intelligence into an "easy-to-use" handheld device, said Diamandis.

The Tricorder can be brought to life if all of these technologies are "seamlessly" integrated into a device that's easy for consumers to use, he said.

"We are looking to drive an extraordinary set of breakthroughs in health care," Diamandis said during Jacobs' keynote.

The winning team will need to develop a mobile platform that accurately diagnoses 15 diseases across 30 consumers in three days without a physician. The platform must also be able to capture vital data, such as blood pressure, respiratory rate and temperature.

By sponsoring the competition, Qualcomm aims to motivate entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists and doctors to create wireless health services and technologies that increase access to health care and make the health care system more efficient, said Jacobs.

"We're really working hard to develop new wireless tools, devices, sensors and services that are helping people interact with their health care providers and manage their own wellness," the Qualcomm CEO said. "This is making health care more accessible and more affordable."

In his keynote, Jacobs also introduced Dr. Eric Topol, chief academic officer for Scripps Health, who demonstrated medical monitoring technologies for smartphones. Scripps Health is a nonprofit health system in San Diego.

Topol showed apps that displayed cardiogram waves and blood glucose readings on his Sony Ericsson Xperia smartphone. With personalized medicine a trend to watch in 2012, Topol also demonstrated a sensor that can take a saliva sample that uses DNA sequencing to tell whether medication might work for an individual patient or not, or whether side effects might occur.

X Prize's Diamandis took inspiration from Topol's demonstration.

"Our goal is to take the technology you saw Dr. Eric Topol demonstrate here light-years forward and really to bring the Tricorder technology of 'Star Trek' to life," said Diamandis.