Laser Tech is Laying the Foundation for Tricorders

Transporters, replicators, warp drives and holodecks – Star Trek has blessed us with plenty of futuristic technologies to dream about over the years, but few seem more useful than McCoy’s trusty tricorder.

With just a wave of the handheld device over a patient’s body, the Enterprise’s chief medical officer is able to quickly diagnose ailments and prescribe a course of treatment. It’s fast, reliable and completely non-invasive.

Twenty years ago, the idea still seemed pretty farfetched. Today, it’s not so far removed from reality.

Laser Tech is Laying the Foundation for TricordersAt Rice University in Houston, Texas, a team of medical students is currently testing a device that uses a laser, rather than a blood draw, to diagnose malaria. The laser wavelength doesn’t harm human tissue, but can be absorbed by the waste crystals in blood that are produced by malaria.

  • An accompanying oscilloscope can then measure the reaction and detect the infection. The whole process takes about 20 seconds.
  • Because it doesn’t require disposable needles or additional chemical reagents, the test is also far less expensive than traditional blood tests.

Meanwhile, a five person team at Biomeme has been working on a smartphone peripheral that can diagnose diseases like Ebola and Zika in a matter of minutes.

It works by the scanning for the DNA signatures of these diseases with, you guessed it, an array of lasers.

The team is in the process of improving the device so that it can detect the DNA signatures of additional disease as well.

Even Samsung has expressed interest in these laser diagnostic tools. Recently, the Seoul-based tech conglomerate applied for a patent for “Laser Speckle Interferometric technology.” This technology, which could be integrated into Samsung’s smartphones and wearable devices, would use a laser to track things like blood pressure, pulse rate and skin conditions.

It’s hard to say whether Samsung will ever actually employ the patented technology in their devices, but the proof of concept is there.

Your smartphone is already an all-in-one personal assistant, media center and navigator. Why not add diagnostic testing center to that list as well?