Bay Area company developing real life tricorder


While a small handheld device isn't exactly like having a doctor in your pocket, biomedical engineer Brandon Woolsey of Sunnyvale start-up Scanadu, believes they're getting there. Hold it to your forehead, and the scanner reads and records critical data about your health, displayed as wave forms on a smartphone.

"The top one is an ECG signal, the electrical impulse of your heart. So every time your heart beats there are electrical pulses sent out and that's what we're capturing with your electrodes," Woolsey explains.

The device, known as the Scanadu Scout, shoots pulses of light into the skin, and filters the wavelengths coming back to extract a variety of readings, from temperature to blood movement to oxygen levels. All interpreted by the internal software. The technology is the brain child of Walter de Brouwer, who founded the Sunnyvale company three years ago.

"So basically this is what they do in the O.R. They hook you up and listen to heart rate, temperature, your blood pressure, the oxygen in your blood. That gives good insight into how you feel," he says.

To some, the Scanadu may seem both futuristic and familiar. A 21st century version of the Tricorder made famous in the Star Trek television series.

And Woolsey says they're not far off the mark. He explained, "At the moment what we're trying to do is build up to a Tricorder. The way I see it is this is a step to get to that point."

The device follows a boom of wearable devices and smartphone applications to help consumers improve their health. While none are likely to replace regular visits to the doctor, De Brouwer believes Scanadu could evolve into a kind of constant monitoring system, built right into smart phones.

"The phone will scan, the phone will measure, the phone will sniff even, and all these things together may give you an alert," he says.

The Scanadu is currently undergoing FDA trials. The company hopes to have it on the market later this year.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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