Friday, January 13, 2012

Request for Expression of Interest: The Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize

The Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize was announced at CES this week. The goal of the competition is to build a "thing" that can
".....capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases. Metrics for health could include such elements as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. Ultimately, this tool will collect large volumes of data from ongoing measurement of health states through a combination of wireless sensors, imaging technologies, and portable, non-invasive laboratory replacements...".
I say a "thing" because it does not have to be just a portable device as one could envision by remembering the original Tricorder. The current description of the prize is pretty light on the details for the moment and the FAQ is not extraordinarily helpful....yet. For instance, right now we don't know if the 15 diseases are already known or are just up to the team to define. 

Let us look at some of the response of the FAQ to get a sense of what this challenge is really about.. First of all, are we talking about Star Treck type of technology, where most of the technology either does not exist or is very low in the TRL scale ? Probably not:

"....What's new about the technology? Doesn't most of this already exist?
Yes, some of the technology exists today. However, the the teams in this competition will pull this all together in one seamless system. The resulting instrument will also push the sensing component of technology in different ways: Smaller, lighter, cheaper, faster, better. Integration of these many different components is expected to be very challenging...."

While the emphasis is on diagnostics, I note the importance of continuous monitoring

What will the Device actually do?
  • Diagnose diseases
  • Provide ongoing metrics of health (vitals)
  • Allow monitoring or continuous use of sensors to diagnose and measure health
  • Provide awareness of health state
  • Give confirmation that everything is ok with a consumer
  • Notify that something is not ok (a "check engine light")

 Of related interest, there seems to be an interest for non invasive capabilities, this one is tough one.

Do the sensors have to be wireless?
No; however, due to consumer experience requirements it's unlikely a non-wireless sensor will be successful.

Can the sensors be invasive? (What is "invasive?")
There is no requirement or limit on sensing; we define a grand challenge and let teams find the best, innovative new solutions. "Invasive" means it punctures the skin. The competition allows this but it's very unlikely this would be acceptable to a consumer. For example, drawing blood is invasive but the accelerometer in your phone is non-invasive.
Finally, when they talk about sensing, they really mean sensing and make sense of it:

What is the difference between sensors and sensing? (What is "sensing?")
Sensors are generally physical hardware. These are used to collect health metrics and data about a person. The sensor can collect data for a short or long period of time. Sensing is the process of taking the data and interpreting it for patterns. These patterns can be analyzed to show unusual variations within one person, or compared to other people.
From the compressive sensing standpoint, there are obvious subjects of interest in this description, some of which have somehow already been implemented by some research teams. However, besides ECG, EEG, there might be some trickier inverse problems if we want to avoid the issue of non invasiveness. In particular, there may be a need for the fusion of inverse problems that generally are not considered together.

I would be interested in being part of a team that competes in this challenge. I may contact some of you in the future on the matter but if you want to just talk about it, we can do that as well. Obviously, all these discussions will remain private unless we, both parties, agree to communicate on these matters. Wave me in if interested.


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