Can Scanadu’s Scout Win the Star Trek Tricorder XPRIZE?
“Trekkies”. It’s a word that was created to describe the fanatical fans of Star Trek, a series with imagined technological advances so advanced, that even Nasa commented on their feasibility. One technology any trekkie would be well aware of is the “tricorder”, a fictional device that can diagnose a patient for any number of ailments in a matter of seconds. But it’s not just the trekkies who marvel at the capabilities of this fictional device. A $75 billion telecom company called Qualcomm has put up a $10 million XPRIZE for the first company that can develop a tricorder. So here’s what exactly that means:
The winner(s) of the $10M Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE will be the best-performing solution in its ability to assess a set of 16 distinct conditions and 5 vital signs in a pool of people within 3 days. The solution must weight no more than 5 pounds and upload vital sign data to the cloud for the duration of the exercise. There can be no more than three winners; 1st $7 million, 2nd $2 million, and 3rd $1 million.
Here are the complete set of rules if you’re interested, but take note that it’s too late to enter. On December 15th, 2015, consumer testing ends and the winner will be announced on 27 January 2016. While there are 7 final teams in the running, one company stands out as well ahead of the pack. Medical device startup Scanadu has already used a very successful crowdfunding campaign to sell an easy-to-use vital sign monitoring device to the general public.
Scanadu was founded in January of 2011, 4 months before the Qualcomm Xprize was announced. The company has taken in nearly $45 million in funding to date, with a $35 million round closing in April of this year. Scanadu’s first medical device, the Scanadu “Scout”, was first sold to the public via an extremely successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The campaign, which was only looking to raise $100 thousand, ended up raising $1.6 million by selling over 6,400 devices at $199 a pop. Unlike some other crowdfunding campaigns, the devices began shipping in February 2015 and all orders have been now filled.
So what is the Scanadu Scout? When pressed against your forehead, this hockey puck-sized device can talk to your smartphone and monitor 5 vital signs; Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, Oxygen Saturation, Respiratory Rate, and Temperature.
So can the Scanadu Scout win the Xprize? Not on its own. Monitoring vital signs is just one requirement. The other requirement if you recall, is the ability to diagnose 15 different diseases as seen below:
Required Core Health Conditions (13): Anemia, Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Diabetes, Hepatitis A, Leukocytosis, Pneumonia, Otitis Media, Sleep Apnea, Stroke, Tuberculosis, Urinary Tract Infection, Absence of condition.
Elective Health Conditions (Choice of 3): Allergens (airborne), Cholesterol Screen, Food-borne Illness, HIV Screen, Hypertension, Hypothyroidism/Hyperthyroidism, Melanoma, Mononucleosis, Osteoporosis, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Shingles, Strep Throat.
While the Scanadu Scout can’t win the Xprize on its own, one additional device from Scanadu called the ScanaFlo helps fulfill some of these additional requirements. This urinalysis strip can measure up to 12 reagents on a single stick, then uses a smartphone app to tell you what’s going on based on the resulting colors:
So are these two devices enough to win the XPRIZE? Maybe, but there’s one other device under development by Scanadu called the “ScanaFlu”, a strip test that will analyze saliva in cases of cold-like symptoms and test for a variety of conditions including strep throat. This third test was mentioned by Scanadu back in 2012 along with the Scout and ScanaFlo devices, but hasn’t been mentioned since.
One element of this competition which the rulebook emphasizes heavily is that of consumer usability. How easy are these devices to use? How comfortable to patients feel using them without a medical professional present? Judging by how eager consumers were to snatch up devices, and the 1.6 billion data points these devices have generated so far which can now be viewed in real-time, it’s safe to say that consumer adoption is not an issue. All of the Scanadu Scout devices sold through the Indiegogo campaign have not yet achieved FDA approval, and you’ll have to wait until the devices are FDA approved before you can buy any of them.
So is the Scanadu Scout the next Star Trek tricorder? No, but a combination of all 3 devices just may well be. Should Scanadu win the Xprize, the $7 million will come in handy but perhaps more so will be all the publicity they receive as a result. One way for retail investors to participate in startups is through equity crowdfunding, although it’s unlikely Scanadu will go that route now. Another way is to buy pre-IPO shares right before an IPO.
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