Points of Disinterest: Episode 12

This is one of those technologies that looked impossible. In Star Trek, Bones would wave a tricorder over the patient and be able to tell what was wrong with them. Then there was the salt shaker prop that he would either scan over the patient or occasionally hold it still over a problem site.

The disbelief comes from trying to imagine how to make such a tiny device that could penetrate the body and “scan” it. X-rays are far too energetic to be generated by such a small device. And where was the receiver to make a picture from the x-rays? MRI machines are enormous and bulky. Ultrasound may not be a bad option but even that’s far fetched to have it function the way it is used in the shows.

That hasn’t stopped people from trying. One company Scanadu is developing an internet based device that uses a search engine to check images of symptoms and a database of connected systems to help diagnose medical problems. It’s even supposed to handle urine samples.  In theory the tricorders on Star Trek could have functioned by being connected to the ships computers and sensors than independent scanning devices.

Another possibility, if the technology advances from it’s current state is artificial smell receptors. Imagine that little salt shaker, sucking in air and reading all the molecules that pass through it. If a dog can smell cancer then a sufficiently sensitive artificial nose should be able to detect the same. What if it could smell bacteria and viruses? It’s not an impossible concept. What about smelling a build up of proteins around a wound site? That could also be possible as long as the sensors are sensitive enough.

So in seventy years, could the tricorder exist? Where I used to think no, now I might have to say yes.

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