AI-powered diagnostic device takes out Tricorder XPrize

Launched in 2012, the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize tasked competing teams with developing a portable and versatile medical diagnostics machine that would give people "unprecedented access" to information about their health. The contest has now been run and won, with an AI-powered device awarded top honors and US$2.5 million for its trouble.

This particular XPrize – a series of competitions aimed at solving global issues – was created to encourage the development of a device that mimicked the iconic Tricorder from Star Trek. More specifically, this meant the ability to diagnose 13 conditions including anemia, diabetes, sleep apnea and urinary tract infections, along with the ability to detect three of five additional diseases: HIV, hypertension, melanoma, shingles and strep throat.

The competition was whittled down to ten finalists in 2014, and then again to two in December last year. The Taiwan-based Dynamical Biomarkers Group took second place with its prototype for a smartphone-based diagnostics device, but was beaten out by Final Frontier Medical Devices from Pennsylvania.

The winning machine is called DxtER and uses artificial intelligence to teach itself to diagnose medical conditions. It does this by using a set of non-invasive sensors to check vital signs, body chemistry and biological functions and draws on data from clinical emergency medicine and actual patients. All this data is then synthesized by the AI engine and the device spits out a "quick and accurate assessment."

In addition to the $2.5 million, the Final Frontier and Dynamical Biomarkers Group teams (which received a not-too-shabby $1 million for second place) will benefit from ongoing support and funding from XPrize and its partners. This includes R&D partnerships with the US Food and Drug Administration and the University of California San Diego. Meanwhile, Lowe's Home Improvements has committed to distributing a consumer-ready version of the device, while the General Hospital of Maputo in Mozambique will provide it to its doctors, nurses and patients.

"We could not be more pleased with the quality of innovation and performance of the teams who competed, particularly with teams Final Frontier and Dynamical Biomarkers Group," said Marcus Shingles, CEO of the XPrize Foundation. "Although this XPrize competition phase has ended, XPrize, Qualcomm Foundation, and a network of strategic partners are committed and excited to now be entering a new phase which will support these teams in their attempt to scale impact and the continued evolution of the Tricorder device through a series of new post-competition initiatives." 

- Nick Lavars, New Atlas