Modernizing the Thermometer with the Tricorder

MARCH 10, 2015

Star Trek ushered in hopes and dreams of great advancements in technology in the future. Among starships and teleportation, there was an almost magical tool known as the Tricorder that could scan and process a diagnosis for a patient.

We are years away from attaining the level of technological abilities in the Star Trek Universe, but that doesn’t stop us from emulating what we have seen and aiming for the stars.

In the health care field, the pursuit of a Tricorder is a venture seriously considered by multiple companies. The Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize is an ongoing competition with a $7 million prize for the best developer of the modern Tricorder. The XPrize's inception was in 2012, with teams competing to make judging qualifications at the end of 2015. Currently, the competition is down to 10 teams that hope to win.

The winner, based on the XPrize Guidelines, will need to create a lightweight device (<5 lbs) that is consumer friendly and can collect multiple vital data points that can be uploaded to the cloud. One of the 10 teams, Scanadu, has made multiple headlines, including its success via crowdfunding on Indiegogo, where it received more than $1 million and recently released its product to early backers.

The Scanadu Scout is the first version of Scanadu’s vision of the Tricorder, with features that include measuring heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, heart rhythm, and pulse oximetry. This is all accomplished by holding the device to the left side of the forehead.

So, why does the Tricorder XPrize matter? It comes down to a changing mentality of outpatient monitoring and the explosion of digital health devices.

The smartphone has changed health care, with many apps providing medical information for patients alongside the capability to track data. While there are numerous devices available on the market that perform singular functions, such as exercise trackers, heart rate monitors, and temperature monitors, none can perform multiple functions at once. The Tricorder XPrize demonstrates the disruptive innovation process that is ongoing in technology and health care.

One day, the standard thermometer may eventually be replaced by a device capable of so much more.

Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.