Seeing the wide smile on Dr. Basil Harris as he demonstrated his XPRIZE winning “DxtER” device last Friday at the Silicon Valley Comic Con in San Jose, California, it seemed almost natural that he and his team would win a five-year competition named after one of science fiction’s most iconic gadgets. His team was appropriately named “Final Frontier Medical Devices,” and he showed no restraint in sharing his admiration of Star Trek. And like many of the other nerds in the room (myself included), Dr. Harris looked excited and starstruck as he gave a demo of DxtER to Apple co-founder and tech legend Steve Wozniak, even blaming his steadily increasing heart rate readings on the Woz’s presence.
But aside from being a Trekkie and an inventor, Dr. Harris is a practicing emergency physician just outside of Philadelphia, and much of the approach to DxtER’s design and functionality he credits to his experiences in the ER. Fresh off the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE awards ceremony in Los Angeles and his visit to the Bay Area, Dr. Harris shared more with us about DxTER, its future, and if we’ll be carrying tricorders in our future.
Scott Jung, Medgadget: What motivated you to enter the competition?
Dr. Basil Harris: Being science fiction and Star Trek fans played a big part in getting interested in this project. It is just so cool to play even a little role in bringing the medical tricorder from Star Trek to life. But using this technology to advance the access to medical care is even cooler! These technologies are changing the future of medicine around the world. And in this new world of improved access to care, everyone wins!
Medgadget: What was your approach toward the design of DxtER?
Harris: DxtER is built for regular consumers and guides the user with a tablet computer on how to use the components from the medical kit. Our approach to designing DxtER is to focus on the needs of the user. Build boldly and to test our designs as much as possible. All the while, we remained open to change. We could not have built the final prototype without hitting a lot of dead-ends first.
Medgadget: What sets DxtER apart from the competition?
Harris: To achieve an accurate diagnosis, we first recreated the diagnostic process as performed by physicians in an actual medical encounter. Only after we had that built and validated with real medical data, did we start building hardware. Our fellow XPRIZErs built awesome systems, but we believe our focus on the AI first helped set us apart. We didn’t get lost trying to figure out patterns in endless data because we knew what data was important and focused on obtaining just that— we like to think that we targeted smart data rather than big data.
Medgadget: In the video on the XPRIZE website, you said that your device is more advanced than Star Trek’s tricorder?
Harris: In the TV series, the tricorder was used by the ship’s doctor to obtain vital signs and other information. The doctor would then interpret that information to come up with a diagnosis. In the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE contest we had to do the same thing PLUS include the doctor into the device! The testers enrolled in the contest did not have any medical background and the data collected was analyzed automatically by the device.
Medgadget: What’s next for your device?
Harris: The contest and clinical testing at the University of California – San Diego (UCSD) were great, but now comes the hard work and clinical trials for the US FDA. We have tests ongoing at Main Line Health near Philadelphia and will spin up new tests at UCSD. Although I’d love it to be sooner, realistically I hope the first production-grade components will be approved and available for use in about 2 to 3 years. The prize money and continued support from the XPRIZE Foundation will help get us the rest of the way.
Medgadget: Star Trek recently celebrated its 50th birthday. What do you envision the next 50 years of healthcare looking like?
Harris: Tricorders of all types for everyone— personal in-home tricorders, public kiosk tricorders, emergency tricorders, rugged wilderness tricorders, space station and deep space tricorders, etc.!