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Scanadu Scout Hands-on: A Tricorder in Every Pocket

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Look out, Dr. McCoy! By the end of next year, consumers will be able to pick up the Scanadu SCOUT, a small $150 palm-sized device, which will scan your vitals in less than a minute, and give you a diagnosis on your smartphone. 

The SCOUT was invented by Walter de Brouwer, an entrepreneur who, among other things, established the European branch of One Laptop Per Child, Nicholas Negroponte's ambitious project to deliver affordable notebooks to children in Africa. 

Inspired by a trip to a hospital--where his son was hooked up to machines that proved as confusing to nurses as himself--as well as the pervasiveness of cellphones in third-world countries, Brouwer set out to design a medical device that was portable and easy to use. Brouwer's "tricorder" had to meet three criteria: It must complete a scan in 10 seconds, it must do so in a non-invasive manner (meaning, no needles), and it has to be inexpensive. 

The Scanadu SCOUT, whose look was designed by Yves Behar, is small and sleek. About an inch square, the top and bottom are white, with small ridges, and the black sides bevel in slightly. It's a very clean, and feels like it belongs in a medical setting. The front has a small infrared scanner, and the back a microUSB port for recharging the device. In the center of the top and bottom are two more sensors. 

Simply hold the SCOUT to your temple, and in ten seconds (it took about a minute during our demo), it will record a number of your vitals: Heart rate, electrical heart activity, pulse transit time, temperature, heart rate variability, and blood oxygenation. It then transmits this information to an iOS app via Bluetooth. 

Scanadu has two more tools in the pipeline, ScanaFlo and ScanaFlu. The first, which will be sold over the counter, is a urinalysis  test for pregnancy complications, preeclampisa, gestational diabetes, kidney failure and urinary tract infections.

After you micturate on the ScanaFlo, little strips embedded in the disposable will change color; simply take a photo using your phone, and Scanaflu's app will interpret the colored strips and render a diagnosis. ScanaFlu works much the same way, but uses saliva instead of urine. The company says that it will test for Strep A, Influenza A, Influenza B, Adenovirus and RSV. 

The SCOUT, as well as the ScanaFlo and ScanaFlu, should be out by the end of 2013, depending on FDA approval. The SCOUT will cost $150, and the ScanaFlo and Scanaflu will be sold in disposable packs for about $30. 

Brouwer sees his devices helping not just hypochondriacs, but foreign aid workers all over the globe who need to diagnose illnesses quickly, cheaply, and safely. He's also looking to develop more comprehensive tests.

The ultimate aim, Brouwer says, is to make data collection and analysis much simpler, so that physicians can devote more of their time to actually treating patients. After all, they're doctors, not accountants.