Category Archives: Medicine

First Look: Scanadu Scout, a Real-Life Tricorder

The Scanadu Scout, a real-life tricorder?

Like all geeks of a certain age, I watched with easy acceptance as Dr. McCoy eyed his medical tricorder while waving a handheld scanner at his patients. Of course he has sleek electronic gadgets to make his diagnoses. The intrusive diagnostic devices of the twentieth century seemed too crude — even medieval — to be used in our shiny, high-tech future.

With the first crop of actual, not-just-on-TV tricorders nearing release, it seems another Star Trek vision is coming to the real world. Scanadu is a finalist in the Tricorder XPRIZE, and the Scout device is becoming available in pre-release form as part of their large-scale FDA consumer health study (a portion of a larger roadmap to gain FDA approval).

the Scanadu Scout in-hand

Karina (a medical doctor and public health professional) and I (emphatically not a doctor but very interested in the health applications of tech and design) were early backers of the Scanadu Indiegogo campaign, giving us early access to a Scout and making me a willing human guinea pig in the study.

The System

The Scout consists of a hopia-sized, sensor-laden handheld scanner (obscure Filipino-culture pastry reference here), along with a smartphone app to collect and display the data. The device is entirely dependent on the app for functionality, with no display or controls of its own beyond an on/off button. The package also contains a micro-USB cable for charging.

Scanadu Scout shown with scale reference

The Hardware

The Yves Béhar-designed device is made in California, and its form reflects a thoughtful design process. Designed to be held and used by the person being measured, the rounded, finger-friendly edges and cleverly positioned indentations are made both for comfort and for optimizing the position of the sensors relative to the subject’s body. Finger indentations on the top and bottom surfaces encourage a proper grip and good ballpark positioning when raised up to the forehead. A sensor on the top surface rests inside the finger indent (an affordance that the finger naturally falls into when gripping the device). Additional sensors positioned on a flat surface on the front edge are intended to be lightly placed against the forehead. Tiny holes on top and bottom presumably are ports for additional sensors measuring the ambient environment.

The rear edge houses the on/off button, the charging port and a power LED. A nice touch on the underside is an inscription reading “sapere aude,” a Latin phrase meaning “Dare to know.”

Rear View of Scanadu Scout

The device is surprisingly light, almost incongruously unsubstantial given the serious information it’s designed to measure. The glossy plastic on the top and bottom has a nice, slightly silky feel but the material’s appearance says “inexpensive medical device” more than it says “Apple.”

Installing the App

The Scout’s smartphone software installs from the App store, requiring no configuration beyond giving the Scout a name and entering some basic personal information (name, height, weight and age) to help with the data interpretation — and presumably to help with the calibration and data validation Scanadu is doing as part of the study. In its current form, the app is intended for a single user, consistent with the constraints of the investigational study (and, I suspect, the constraints of their software development schedule). However, Scanadu indicated that multi-user capability will be available in the future once the device gains FDA approval.


Starting a scan immediately guided me through the largely automated process of pairing my iPhone with the scanner via Bluetooth. The only action needed from me was to press the power button. Easy.

Additional screens illustrate how to hold the device and position it on your own forehead. The finger indents and the natural fold of the left arm got me close to the right spot, but the app’s real-time feedback showed that the data acquisition was weak at first. Small changes in position, pressure and body movement all made a big difference, and it was hard to tell from feel alone whether the flat sensor edge was pressing against my forehead. The short time window for collecting data (before the app halted the reading or the scanner hardware went to sleep) meant that many of my early attempts resulted in failed readings. Practice helps, though — I can now get good readings about 75% of the time after a couple of days of occasional practice. Nevertheless, it’s frustrating that the capture fails after the set time interval even as good data comes in. Ideally, the Scout would continue sending for as long as the app confirms good input.

Scanadu Scout in action

The app interface and the data displays are clear and easy to navigate. The real-time data collection screen (below, left) shows an EKG-like live trace, along with an indicator of signal quality. Some set quantity has to be collected before the reading is considered successful and can be analyzed. Otherwise, the collected data are discarded. Upon completion, results for blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and blood oxygen saturation SpO2 are displayed in a summary screen, with some qualitative interpretation (below, center). Personal data trends for various time frames are available in the history screen (below, right). The Scanadu site indicates that the Scout data will include EKG, heart rate variability and some composite measure of stress, but these are not included in the current app. These measures will likely be possible, given that the acquisition screen already shows a real-time EKG, but this doesn’t appear to be recorded or interpreted. Perhaps these will be added later as the app and the underlying algorithms are developed further.

Scanadu app screens


The Scout’s design and data displays are impressive, but does the device really work? Is it accurately measuring what it purports to measure? Quick checks against alternative methods and my own history indicate good accuracy, but we’ll be doing a series of more careful comparisons against traditional measurements in coming weeks.

The Real McCoy

If the accuracy proves to be as good as early comparisons indicate, the Scout promises to be a leap forward in personal health monitoring. It replaces a bag full of traditional instruments, and potentially makes advanced measures like an EKG possible. The simplicity of making measurements makes it practical to get more data over time — even for non-professionals — creating a picture of an individual’s health that can be correlated with behavior, treatment, diet and other factors. Stay tuned in coming weeks as we do our own informal validation of the Scout’s data to confirm that our Star Trek-style medical future has truly arrived.

Meatless Monday Feast

Meatless Monday Feast for Two Hungry Humans

Do you have 40 minutes tonight to prepare your dinner?

Meatless Monday noise is over. It’s not a fad any more. It’s now alive and well to benefit all of us mortals. Eating exclusively plants at least once a week for an awesome return1 is not so bad:

The EPIC study found that vegan and vegetarian groups had a 32 percent lower risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease.1

We try on most “normal” days to go meatless. Not just Mondays. Check out how we made this easy feast. No one will ask you, “Where do you get your protein?” on this one.

Meatless Monday Feast

First, the salad…

Home Pantry Salad, Raw and Fresh

Home Pantry Salad, Raw and Fresh

True to the wild spirit of our kitchen, we went with the flow on what we had when we opened the fridge and the pantry.

1 bunch Romaine lettuce, organic
1 large mango, organic
2 handfuls dried Goji berries, organic
1 handful raw walnuts, organic
2 TBSP Chia seeds, organic

Raw salad ingredients.

Raw salad ingredients.

1. Chop off the bottom that holds lettuce together.
2. Wash lettuce and mango thoroughly.
3. Chop lettuce in whatever way you wish and place in salad bowl.
4. Peel the mango and slice in cubes; place on top of the chopped lettuce.
5. Sprinkle Goji berries, walnuts, and chia seeds.
6. Mix when ready to eat.

Next, the tofu…

Garlic Tofu Pan Steak

Garlic Tofu Pan Steak

So what do we have here?

1 box Nasoya Extra Firm Tofu, non-GMO, organic
1 bulb garlic, organic
Extra virgin coconut oil, organic
Bragg’s Amino (use tamari or soy sauce, if you prefer)
Ground black pepper
Garlic powder
Dried basil leaves
Sesame seeds

Veggie steak ingredients.

Veggie steak ingredients.

1. Chop tofu in blocks as shown above.
2. Mince garlic.
3. Heat 1 TBSP extra virgin coconut oil. Set to low heat.
4. Saute garlic till light brown.
5. Sear tofu.
6. While one side of tofu is being seared, season top of each block with Bragg’s Amino sauce, garlic powder, and basil sprinkles.
7. Flip tofu and repeat #6.
8. Flip tofu each way until both sides are light brown.
9. When ready to serve, top each block with sautéed garlic and sprinkle sesame seeds.

Now, the sides… rice 

Steamed Herbed Quinoa and Lentils

Steamed Herbed Quinoa and Lentils

I love white rice. But at some point, I needed to switch to low glycemic eating. I feel better. I weigh better. So proudly, I have mastered some happy edits to “rice” when I feel like enjoying some.

2 cups quinoa, organic
2 cups yellow/red lentils
Garlic powder
Himalayan pink salt
Bragg 24 herb sprinkle, organic

Electric rice cooker

Steamed herbed quinoa and lentils ingredients

Steamed herbed quinoa and lentils ingredients

1. Measure and pour two cups of quinoa and 2 cups of yellow lentils into the rice cooker.
2. Add a pinch of Himalayan pink salt.
3. Sprinkle some garlic power and Bragg’s 24 herb sprinkle.
4. Mix everything.
5. Add eight cups of water—my soft rule for steaming quinoa and lentils in a standard electric rice cooker is a ratio of 1 grain:2 water versus the usual white rice rule of 1 white rice: 1 water.
6. Turn the electric rice cooker switch to “cook rice” and let it go through its normal cooking cycle.

Last but not the least…

Mmm Green Mush

Mmm Green Mush

Never underestimate the power of dark greens. I just love greens in juices, smoothies, and sides.

1 bunch kale pulp, organic (saved from green juice)
1 bunch spinach pulp, organic (saved from green juice)
1 clove garlic, leftover from the tofu pan
1 lb snow pea pods
Ground black pepper
2 TBSP flax seeds, organic, ground fresh before use
Sesame seeds

Green mush ingredients.

Green mush ingredients.

1. Wash all vegetables thoroughly.
2. Cut hard ends of snow pea pods.
3. Chop snow pea pods.
4. Using the same cast iron skillet where the tofu was seared, reuse (with some of the coconut oil and garlic bits left) for quickly sautéing pea pods and green pulp. Make sure the setting is on low heat.
5. Sprinkle ground black pepper to taste.
6. When ready to serve, sprinkle two tablespoons of ground flax seeds and sesame seeds.

And, after eating all that, we are now pleasantly full.

The tiny oranges below are a good finish. Of course, drink plenty of fresh filtered water.



I hope you get to make some of these fun stuff for Meatless Mondays.

For now, my new season Walking Dead iTunes download is ready. Our real Monday night dessert. 🙂

Oh and by the way, each dish has all the protein you need. So no worries, just enjoy!


  1. Bradbury KE, Crowe FL, Appleby PN, Schmidt JA, Travis RC, Key, TJ. Serum concentrations of cholesterol, apolipoprotein A-I and apolipoprotein B in a total of 1694 meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014;68:178-183.  [via Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine]




Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future

Is this era coming?

Great article by Maryn McKenna writing for Medium. She is a journalist and author specializing in public health, global health and food policy.

Every inappropriate prescription and insufficient dose given in medicine would kill weak bacteria but let the strong survive. (As would the micro-dose “growth promoters” given in agriculture, which were invented a few years after Fleming spoke.) Bacteria can produce another generation in as little as twenty minutes; with tens of thousands of generations a year working out survival strategies, the organisms would soon overwhelm the potent new drugs.

In September, Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a blunt warning: “If we’re not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era. For some patients and some microbes, we are already there.”

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]