A Medical Tricorder for Homeland Security
A tricorder is the high-tech scanning device in the Star Trek universe that analyzes things at a distance. There are three types: one of Kirk's exploration team would use a general tricorder to see what aliens are lurking on an unfamiliar planet, Scotty would use an engineering tricorder to know what was wrong with the Enterprise, and Bones would use a medical tricorder for an instant diagnosis of a patient. Of course, these fictional devices were great time savers in a sci-fi drama. The real thing is much harder to produce, but engineers are in the process of developing the closest thing so far, the Standoff Patient Triage Tool. It, just like the medical tricorder used in Star Trek: The Original Series, was developed to be a time-saving diagnostic tool.
The Standoff Patient Triage Tool can take a patient's vital signs (pulse, body temperature, and respiration) at up to 40 feet away. You may think "what's the use in that?" Why would a doctor not get close to a patient? Ah, but this is not for your doctor in an office setting. Imagine a disaster, such as a collapsed building, chemical spill, or a war zone. There are dozens of people waiting for someone to help them. Medics or paramedics must perform triage in a hurry to find out who is in the greatest danger of dying and who needs help most immediately. Greg Price of S&T's Tech Solutions says,
"Human nature is to pay attention to the person who is screaming and bleeding, but someone else with a less obvious internal injury may need to be the first priority," said Price. "In the case of large-scale triage, it is not always the squeaky wheel that needs the grease. The SPTT may someday help first responders hear a lot more from their patients, and much more quickly."
The Standoff Patient Triage Tool can scan a body in a mere 30 seconds, whereas standard triage procedures mean 3-5 minutes with each victim just to take basic vital signs. The project is a collaboration between S&T's Tech Solutions, Technical Support Working Group (TSWG), Boeing, and Washington University's School of Medicine for the Department for Homeland Security. The finished product is expected to be around 15 inches long, and about the size of a thick notebook.
This is not the first time hand-held medical devices have been compared with Dr. McCoy's tricorder, but most of them have narrow (albeit important) uses. No doubt more small hand-held gadgets for other purposes are in development even now.