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From Trekkie to Techie

A team at SDSU is working on a "Star Trek" inspired device that could revolutionize health care.
The SDSU XPRIZE Team includes more than 60 members from five SDSU colleges.
The SDSU XPRIZE Team includes more than 60 members from five SDSU colleges.

An interdisciplinary team of faculty, researchers and students from San Diego State University has entered Qualcomm's Tricorder XPRIZE Competition for a chance at $10 million and the opportunity to revolutionize healthcare.

The Tricorder Competition, named for the futuristic medical device from “Star Trek,” aims to incentivize teams to create a portable, affordable wireless device that monitors and diagnoses a variety of health conditions, making reliable diagnoses available to consumers.

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An early concept drawing of SDSU's Tricorder prototype which will be ready for submission in April 2014.
The SDSU XPRIZE team is spearheaded by student Lambert Ninteman, a childhood cancer survivor and life-long “Star Trek” fan who thought the Tricorder was a fantastic idea long before Qualcomm announced its competition. Ninteman heard about the Tricorder Competition the day he was accepted into SDSU’s MBA program, and he knew entering the competition was something he had to do.

60 Aztecs Strong

“It’s clear that SDSU has tremendous advantages over the competition,” said Ninteman.  “Many corporations, government departments, and universities fail to effectively harness their talent and communicate a genuine vision across the organization.  We’ve got a team from across disciplines, and the integration of components has been the real trick.  This is cutting edge stuff.”

The team includes more than 60 members from five SDSU colleges – the Colleges of Sciences, Business Administration, Engineering, Health and Human Services and Education.

“One of the strengths of this institution is the ability to collaborate across disciplines,” said Dr. Roberta Gottlieb, director of SDSU’s Shiley BioScience Center and lead physician of the XPRIZE team. “This team is very passionate about their objectives, and they have a fantastic plan to create a device that will change the face of health care.  This endeavor is very exciting.”

The team also utilizes the resources of all four entrepreneurial incubator spaces on campus, including the Wells Fargo Financial Markets Laboratory, Shiley BioScience Center, Zahn Center for Technological Innovation and the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center.

Steep Competition

More than 250 teams from around the world have already registered for the competition. The only rules for the Tricorder are that it has to function independently —without relying on the internet —and that it cannot weigh more than 5 pounds.

SDSU’s team is working to build a prototype of a scanning device capable of performing physician-grade diagnosis. It will have four external sensors – a camera for visual scans, a fluidics device for lab tests, a surface device for monitoring vital signs and an acoustic device that functions as a stethoscope.

Teams have until April 10, 2014 to complete their prototype, which must be able to monitor five vital signs: blood pressure, electrocardiography, temperature, respiratory rate and pulse oximetry.

For the prototype phase, the device must also be able to accurately diagnose five out of 12 core diseases from a list including anemia, urinary tract infections, diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea and hepatitis A.

Just 10 teams will be chosen to advance to the final round, which concludes three and a half years from the competition start date of January 8, 2013.  At that point, each finalist device must be able to accurately detect five vital signs and diagnose 15 diseases.

The winner will be the team whose device most accurately diagnoses the total set of diseases independent of a healthcare professional or facility, and the interface that provides the best user experience.

A wider collaboration


SDSU’s XPRIZE team is also working with a number of advisors at organizations outside of the university including the Salk Institute, Naval Medical Hospital San Diego and University of California, San Diego.

 “We’re able to share a vision across boundaries, and work hard to achieve our objectives.  Imagination, determination and mutual respect make all the difference … this is not ivory tower science.  We truly believe we can change the world,” said Ninteman.
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