Sent from my Tricorder Part I

Like everybody else these days, I write many emails with my phone. Those who have received emails from me have most certainly noticed my signature reading, “Sent from my Tricorder” instead of “Sent from my iPhone.”

Not only is it an homage to Star Trek, I have been fantasizing about a real Tricorder for ages now. But it was not until I finally, and hesitantly, shelved my Nokia E71 for an iPhone 4 a couple of years ago that I seriously thought I would see it (or at least a version of) in my lifetime. I know it’s just around the corner. After all, around the corner nowadays mean leaps in technology in no time. Just sit for a Mac Keynote every so often and you’ll know what I mean. Yes, I drank the Apple Kool-Aid. 😉 Oh, lighten up.

As a medical doctor by training and a gadget geek, I dream of many things technologically for the future—specifically devices and knowledge that would enhance individuals’ capacity for self-care. The Tricorder dominates them all. The Tricorder will truly empower individuals, not just in high-income nations but in low- to middle- income as well. I can imagine its possibilities not only in remote medicine (remember the FAST ultrasound aboard the ISS?) but in our everyday lives. Notice I say individuals and not patients. This is how game-changing the real Tricorder will be. The Tricorder will largely contribute to realizing the advocacy efforts to bring patients’ health center stage—individuals as active participants in their own health. Just you wait.

The version in my head looks just like the beautiful (can you hear Jonathan Ive’s voice?) iPhone 5s I am holding right now. Probably 50-100x more powerful (it’s my blog, I can speculate my heart out!) with enhanced sensing via the camera or additional sensor capabilities. And to think, we are bowing like crazy at the iPhone 5s photo capabilities today. That’s why I was shocked at Qualcomm’s knee-jerk judgment about the 64-bit A7 chip. I was not surprised at the retraction shortly after.

Wired thinks it’s forward looking.

But more importantly (and unlike much of its competition), the handset is laying the groundwork for the smartphones of tomorrow. The 64-bit A7 chip and M7 coprocessor together mark a profound jump in device performance and efficiency.

As far as a smart phone’s potential as a vessel going forward—ready to house that precious near-future personal health device—the current iPhone has fingerprint ID (incredible!), slow motion video capture (fantastic!), and real-time panorama creation (amazing!). If it can do all these, it can surely be the high-processing platform for the Tricorder.

After all, there is a reason why the iPhone is the photo in our minds when we think about the non-fiction Tricorder. I am not alone. Just a couple of weeks ago, I caught this from the X-Prize Facebook Page:

iPhone = Tricorder?

iPhone = Tricorder?

Signs of the times, on my radar:

Mobisante, the smartphone ultrasound device approved by the US FDA in 2011.

Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize, the contest that will deliver the real Tricorder.

Advances in fields such as artificial intelligence, wireless sensing, imaging diagnostics, lab-on-a-chip, and molecular biology will enable better choices in when, where, and how individuals receive care, thus making healthcare more convenient, affordable, and accessible. The winner will be the team whose technology most accurately diagnoses a set of diseases independent of a healthcare professional or facility, and that provides the best consumer user experience with their device.

Scanadu, which successfully funded a campaign on Indiegogo earlier this year, is my favorite. Gerry was on it and got us one. We did not quite make it to the ones with a bit more testing participation, but we made it in time to reserve a delivery on March 2014. I cannot wait.

There are plenty more signs of dramatic progress ahead… so stay tuned!

[Written: 11.01.2013]
[Revised: 11.17.2013]