Ulster University team finishes third in challenge to build a real ‘tricorder’

8 May 2017

Image: Tiko Aramyan/Shutterstock

Ulster University team wins prize in global competition for tricorder-like device.

A team of researchers from Ulster University (UU) is celebrating a third-place finish at a recent competition that aims to make an iconic tool from science fiction a reality for the benefit of all.

Those familiar with the Star Trek universe will know that the tricorder is a medical diagnostic device that can quickly scan a patient and tell the physician what is wrong with them.

To that end, semiconductor producer Qualcomm held a Tricorder XPrize competition, awarding a total of $10m for the creation of a health diagnostics tool that is packaged into a single portable device, and capable of diagnosing and interpreting a set of 16 medical conditions.

In total, 300 applications from researchers were entered into the competition and, from an Irish perspective, UU had cause to celebrate.

A research team from the university’s Connected Health Innovation Centre, led by Prof Jim McLaughlin, collaborated with a number of companies – including medical device spin-out Intelesens – to develop its device.

Ulster University device

The device developed by the UU team for the XPrize. Image: Ulster University

Reaching new frontiers of medicine

The team’s invention allows patients to check their symptoms through questions on a smartphone, and they are guided with graphical instructions on how to use supporting equipment. These communicate with the phone via Bluetooth to diagnose everything from strep throat to urinary tract infections, with all of the medical data transmitted to the cloud.

For its efforts, the UU team was awarded the Milestone award, worth a total of $50,000, to develop the concept.

The big winner of the XPrize however, was Final Frontier Medical Devices from the US, winning $2.5m for its DxtER creation. This uses artificial intelligence to combine patient data with medical data to come to a diagnosis quickly.

McLaughlin said: “As the best-placed European team, we are proud of our top-five finish in this global competition, and the journey has truly inspired us to reach new frontiers.

“Our sights are now set on progressing the solution to secure improved outcomes for patients, as well as significant cost savings for healthcare providers.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic