Tech review–Scanadu Scout, the world’s first medical tricorder

Scanadu Scout

In June 2013, more than three years ago, we previewed the Scanadu Scout First Edition here, a medical device in the concept stage that was being kicked off as an Indiegogo campaign intended to be the first step in bringing to the world a functional medical tricorder.  The future in medicine was expected to arrive by March 2014.  Scanadu, one of the competitors in Qualcomm’s $10 million XPrize competition to build the world’s first medical tricorder, was in final development stages and taking pre-orders for the Scanadu Scout First Edition for only $199.

Inspired by the Star Trek tricorder, medical science already has scanning devices similar to those used by Dr. Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The competition entrants are expected to go further, to combine the best of both the original series tricorder used by Dr. McCoy, and the updated, smaller device used by the crew of the Enterprise-D, created for the series by designer Rick Sternbach.  To long-time Star Trek fans, we will think of this new Scanadu tricorder not as the “first edition” but as the Mark I.  It’s only a first step, as the XPrize is intended to do much more, as explained below.

Scanadu has had its ups and downs with the Scanadu Scout First Edition and did a fine job keeping its backers notified as to its progress since the launch in 2013.  Ultimately the devices began to be shipped in the first half of 2015– a year after the expected ship date.  When our version arrived we quickly hit the first snag.  Since the hockey puck-shaped device requires an Android or iPhone for data transmission, it requires a Scanadu app.  The problem was the app compatability was limited.  So many of the 8,500 backers were able to proceed, but those of us with a different brand of phone (we used an LG) were out of luck.  So when we switched phones last week we finally were able to test the device, now more than three years after the Indiegogo campaign began.

Scout scan images

Even with a device that had not been charged, we were able to take it from the box, download and launch the app, and commence the first scan within a few minutes.  And it worked.  The Scanadu Scout promises to deliver readings for heart rate, body temperature, blood oxygen saturation, and blood pressure.  Our readings showed consistent measurements for each category.

The device has two sensors.  Holding one on your forehead and the other with the left index finger a circuit with your heart is created.  The device reads the data, which takes less than a minute to collect, and sends it to your smartphone via Bluetooth signal where you can track trends in your data, email it to yourself, etc.  It works just like Dr. Crusher used her medical tricorder on Star Trek: The Next Generation, shown here–one device as scanner is held to the forehead and data is transferred to a tricorder/reader (in Scanadu’s case, it’s a smartphone) and analyzed:


Backers are guinea pigs of sorts.  Data collected from scan trials are being uploaded and used as part of Scanadu’s application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval as a medical device.  If the Scanadu Scout is approved, then it could be sold for home use, which could mean a big savings for everyone who could avoid doctor visits for those routine checks requiring any of the tests the device records.

The device is subject to changes in noise and light, and works best when you are perfectly still with no perspiration, so you may need to retake your readings if you see an anomaly.  But a confirmed change could be a red flag to tell you that you need to see a doctor.  At this trial “investigational” phase, that is the key purpose of the device for the consumer.  I tested both during normal conditions and following a four-mile run and readings changed just as you’d expect.

The app is handy.  It uses a series of colors (green for good to yellow and orange as cautions to red as warning) for each test to alert you to possible meanings of readings that are not consistent with normal readings.  Ultimately, the device surpassed our expectations.

Scanadu Scout

The most recent communication from Scanadu suggests that FDA approval is not coming very soon.  Approvals take plenty of time.  Meanwhile Scanadu is moving ahead to test a device that tests urine, measuring up to 12 reagents, including glucose, protein, leukocytes, nitrites, blood in the urine, bilirubin, urobilinogen, microalbumin, creatinine, ketone, specific gravity and pH levels.

The Scanadu Scout is not yet for sale, and will only be marketed in the event FDA approval is received.  But from time to time you can find the devices resold on eBay.

The Qualcomm competition is still looking for the best tricorder, with entries already submitted by dozens of inventors and science laboratories across the world.  The parameters are few–it must weigh less than five pounds, and must be capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases.  Metrics can include such elements as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature, as found with the Scanadu Scout.  Ultimately, the XPrize winner would be able to collect large volumes of data from ongoing measurement of health states through a combination of wireless sensors, imaging technologies, and portable, non-invasive laboratory replacements, according to the competition rules.  A winner is expected to be announced in 2017.

Scanadu Scout is built on the 32-bit RTOS Micrium platform, NASA’s choice for sample analysis on the Mars Rover Curiosity.

C.J. Bunce

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