Jan. 8, 2013 at 1:02 PM ET
While there are a number of fitness gadgets available for runners and health fanatics, there isn't quite as much for the concerned parent or chronically ill. The Scanadu Scout is a device that checks your vital statistics, like blood oxygenation and heart rate, in a few seconds, sending that information to your smartphone.
What was originally a concept — a simple checkup in a single device — has become a reality, though it's still in prototype phase. The device, about as big as an Oreo, is used by pressing it against the temple while holding it between the thumb and index finger. What this does is create a circuit between the tip of your finger, through your heart and brain, and back down into your thumb — allowing the device to record a number of vitals.
Pulse, pulse transit time, blood oxygenation, temperature, heart rate variability and heart electrical activity are all reported within 10 seconds. It's not enough to make a diagnosis, but it's enough to see if anything's amiss. And by testing regularly, you can establish baselines — a certain temperature may be out of the ordinary in the morning but normal in the evening, for example.
NBC News talked with Scanadu's chief medical officer, Dr. Alan Greene, at a CES event and saw the device in person; It worked quickly and as described. The one Greene used was a slightly larger prototype unit; the production unit (shown here) was designed by Yves Behar and will ship by the end of 2013. The Scout will probably sell for around $150.
The target market, Greene said, isn't necessarily fit people looking to track their activity; Devices like the Fuelband from Nike or FitBit are more up their alleys. The Scout, he said, is good for parents who have a very limited set of tools with which to track their children's health, and for chronically ill or recovering patients who want to keep tabs on their stats without visiting the doctor every day.
The company runs on grant money from a number of sources, but in order to expand and improve their design, they're competing for the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, a competition among developers to create, well, a Tricorder. The "Star Trek" gadget could quickly read vitals and diagnose common problems without the need for a doctor — such a device would be indispensable at home and in developing countries where access to health care is limited.
The company is also planning home disposable kits that test for strep throat and the flu, among other things, which will be much cheaper. Expect this Tricorder lite to arrive before the end of 2013.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.