In the 1960s, on the set of Star Trek, the original tricorder was invented (for the uninitiated: a tricorder is a handheld device that allowed for sensor scanning and data collection at Starfleet. Very high tech.)
Now the tricorder is back, reincarnated in the form of the Scanadu Scout, a portable device that promises to ignite a personal health revolution. Scanadu is a startup based out of NASA’s Ames Research Center, and the company has labored for two years to create a medical tricorder for consumers. This week, with the official launch of its final, Yves Béhar-designed model on Indiegogo, they’ve succeeded.
The Scout is small and round—about the size of a double-stuffed Oreo cookie—and by holding it against your temple, it measures temperature, heart rate, and hemoglobin (that’s what carries oxygen in your blood) levels in a mere 10 seconds. It has a 99% accuracy rating. That information then transmits via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, giving users the ability to track and analyze their own vitals, from home.
Scanadu’s Scout closely simulates the doctor’s office experience, but from a tactile standpoint it’s different in almost every way: no scratchy nylon cuff squeezing your arm, no cold stethoscope on your skin, and no awkward handoffs of bodily fluids. Most important, patients don’t actually get to leave the doctor with any of that information. Scout gathers all of this data noninvasively and provides a safe little warehouse of information on your phone.
Scanadu sits at a crossroads in the current ecosystem of tech and health products: It’s a health sensor, part of the big data boom, and a contribution to the burgeoning "mHealth" business. Scanadu co-founder Walter De Brouwer, a Belgian futurist and entrepreneur who created an early backpack-size prototype of a tricorder in the late 1990s, points out that the Scout differs from other trackers by drawing our attention outward: "Everyone in the market is making clips or bracelets or watches like Basis. And now Apple is too. But in the end all these devices are very narcissistic because they continuously track, but they do not bring out the healer or the empathy in us." Even if the person you’re healing is you, the process is more action-oriented than checking your daily calorie count.
The products are designed specifically to pop for consumers perusing aisles at the drugstore. To do that, De Brouwer brought on fuseproject’s Yves Béhar, the designer behind Jambox and Jawbone’s Up band to Scanadu. "Medical diagnostic tools are made to look medical, essentially," Béhar tells Co.Design. "They’re cold and unapproachable and a bit scary. Our design brings the consumer beautiful, clear shapes and clear indications. When you look at Scanadu you see how any sized hand would be comfortable—without any of typical faux ergonomics."
Now what to do with the data on your phone? "These are pretty boring things, by themselves," De Brouwer says. "Flour, water, and tomato are also boring ingredients, but together it makes pizza." Translation: The big picture here is much sexier than just a read on your blood pressure. Besides the convenience of at-home diagnostics, Scanadu also offers geo-location and sharing capabilities, so that users start to see larger health patterns. The gadget does not yet have FDA approval, but Scanadu plans to launch a usability study with the early Indiegogo adopters to collect feedback on functions and consumer friendliness.
Scanadu is rooted in one key philosophy: We become the tools we are. "What is the tool of the 21st century?" De Brouwer asks. "Data itself. The great thing about that is we can change the data. If you know the present, you can change the future."
Pre-order your Scanadu Scout here, for $149.