By August-end, a small team in Chennai will know if it is among the 10 to be shortlisted out of the 22 teams in the fray for a $10-million prize in a global healthcare competition called the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize.
The team, led by 39-year-old IT veteran Sridharan Mani, appears confident it will be. Mani's Team Danvantri is the only one from India; the majority are from the US. Some 13 teams that initially registered have dropped out.
The XPrize challenge is fascinating – just like the other ongoing competition to land a privately funded rover on the moon by end of next year, and in which an Indian team, Team Indus, is among the frontrunners. In this case, participants have to develop a medical de vice that can capture key health metrics and diagnose a set of 15 diseases including anaemia, diabetes, tuberculosis, hepatitis A, atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm), sleep apnea, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a lung disease), ear infection and leukocytosis.
There's another equally challenging requirement – the device and any associated components must not weigh more than 5 pounds (2.27kg). "Currently, all the equipment used to diagnose these different diseases will require an entire hospital room," says Mani.
Mani, who has a BSc in Physics and an MBA from US, says, "I spent a lot of time reading IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) research papers for the Tricorder project. We should be able to keep the entire equipment under 2 pounds (0.9 kg)."
XPrize is a non-profit organization that designs public competitions intended to encourage innovations in technology . "Some of these developments may happen in 10-15 years. But why wait that long! Our competitions seek to accelerate them," says Zenia Tata, director of global development & international expansion at XPrize.
For the Qualcomm Tricorder prize, the idea is to make healthcare convenient and affordable. A portable and affordable device that can be used at home to diagnose diseases would be a first step towards bypassing these problems.
Mani's team has already commercialized a small device, controlled by a mobile app, which can check blood pressure, blood oxygen level and temperature. His team is now integrating other technologies into the device to meet the competition's requirements. For some functions, the device will combine a high-definition camera and a strip coated with different chemicals that changes colour when, say , it is dipped in a urine sample. The camera takes a picture of the strip colour, and the mobile app analyses the image and tells you the condition. Kidney and liver problems are among the proposed to be diagnosed with this.
Team Danvantri has also developed small probes to check for anaemia, ear infection, lung capacity , and ECG/ EEG. All of these connect to the main device and/or the phone, which then does the diagnosis.
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