When Basil Harris, a Pennsylvania emergency-room doctor, read about the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE — named for the small but all-powerful diagnostic device in the original Star Trek TV series — he was hooked. The contest offered millions of dollars to the team that could come up with a non-invasive device weighing under five pounds that could accurately diagnose 13 health conditions and monitor 5 vital signs. Oh, and it needed to be usable at home by anyone, with no special training.
Harris, who had been practicing emergency medicine for seven years and also had a Ph.D. in engineering from Cornell University, found the challenge irresistible. “I think it’s a prerequisite for engineers to love science fiction,” says Harris. “And for my generation, Star Trek was big. Its optimistic view of the future is wonderful — we see humanity mature and overcome many of the challenges we face today.”
In 2017, Harris’s self-funded, family-and-friends team, Final Frontier Medical Devices, and their entry, DxtER, won the contest’s top prize of $2.6 million — beating out 312 teams from 38 countries, many of which had significant corporate and government backing.