March has been an interesting month. Not only has Qualcomm announced the competition guidelines for the Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize but another – unrelated – tricorder website has gone live: Peter Jansen’s The Tricorder Project.
Even before the introduction of Star Trek in 1966, science fictions concepts had been capturing the imagination of people all over the world. With the introduction of Star Trek, many new and exciting possibilities stirred in the minds of young and old alike, not the least of which included manned spaceflight with multi-ethnic, multi-national crews. Concepts of teleportation a la transporter technology, defense shields to protect against harmful radiation (and phaser attacks), long-range sensors and – of course – tricorder technology began to find their way into research projects.
Some people haven’t been content to wait for sizeable institutions to “do science” or make significant breakthroughs. Truth be told, while having massive amounts of money & other resources at your disposal can make it easier to pursue new science & technology goals, ingenuity isn’t something that can be simply programmed, propped up and goaded with massive infrastructure. Sometimes, it simply takes a little freedom, some elbow grease & a problem to chew on.
“Do it yourself” (DIY) electronic & science project kits have been around for decades (at least). As technology & knowledge became more widespread, so too have groups of people who have organized to share their knowledge and experience. Have you ever heard of Maker Faires? How about Instructables? There are even amateur astronomers and hobby fusioneers. And then there are those insidious factions of people who gather together PLOTting about open source science & technology projects…
And then there’s wonderfully creative folk like Peter Jensen, PhD. Peter – Doctor Jensen – has already built a working Science Tricorder. Two, in fact. He’s got four (4) models – two built, one currently stopped and one in process.
It’s just the latest bit of news that I was hoping to hear.
His website went live on March 18, 2012; by that time, I’d begun looking at various options for how to create a community-driven, open-sourced specification – and possible entry – for the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize. Now, Dr. Jensen’s Tricorder isn’t meant to be a medical tricorder. He makes that clear. But his underlying methodology is something very similar to what I am hoping to inspire others to participate in: defining how to create an open-source, crowd-driven development of a tool that would meet the core definitions for the Tricorder X Prize – even if the project itself doesn’t get officially entered or funded.
I believe it’s possible, and that it won’t require millions – or even tens of thousands – of dollars to invest in a viable prototype.
Here’s the initial thinking: using at least one Android-powered tablet & at least one of the Jensen devices at the core, a viable entry should enable smart devices to connect & download an app that could use their sensors to gather information in addition to other sensors that may be directly fabricated & included for use. The primary device(s) would assemble & display the data, transmitting it (encrypted, if medical patient data was included) when available to the cloud. A limited degree of storage & additional processing could happen on the device itself (utilizing SSD drives &/or SD cards) for baseline & initial diagnoses, while a virtual machine in the cloud would provide more in-depth analysis (perhaps through rote methodologies initially, but preferably utilizing an expert system of sorts to help focus & streamline the data as well as prompt for additional input as necessary).
The base device could utilize several off-the-shelf components – perhaps with a few hardware hacks – to provide some medical data. There are modular kits & devices that already measure various elements of the blood, provide pulse & oxygen levels, etc. Some already have the ability to monitor continuously & use USB cables to transfer information.
I’m going to examine a few options and toss a few trial balloons out for people to poke at. If you’d like to provide feedback & participate in the online definition, design & – hopefully – building of not only a specification but possibly an actual prototype medical Tricorder, leave a comment and let me know.
I think it’s time we showed that we, as individuals, are capable of banding together to build our future using today’s technology – and we can do it affordably, providing a roadmap of sorts to the future that we’d rather see instead of waiting for others to define one for us. I’m calling this effort “Progressive X.” Would you like to join me?