Every now and then you glance across the interwebs and find something that really gets you excited about the future of technology. Back when I was a kid I’d get my tech fantasy fix from watching programs like Star Wars and Star Trek. In those days, responsive touch screen tablets were a complete myth, and mobile phones had monochrome screens and visible external antennae.
Along with teleporters and replicators, the one gadget that got any techie excited was the Tricorder. Essentially, it’s a handheld device that can be used to scan surroundings, or people and detect harmful substances and a variety of other minerals and chemicals. Thanks to some boffins at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Tricorder is closer to reality. The researchers at the university have come up with an ingenious iPhone cradle that can detect harmful bacteria and a variety of pathogens.
As noted by the university:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers have developed a cradle and app for the iPhone that uses the phone’s built-in camera and processing power as a biosensor to detect toxins, proteins, bacteria, viruses and other molecules.
Having such sensitive biosensing capabilities in the field could enable on-the-spot tracking of groundwater contamination, combine the phone’s GPS data with biosensing data to map the spread of pathogens, or provide immediate and inexpensive medical diagnostic tests in field clinics or contaminant checks in the food processing and distribution chain.
In essence, the way it works is that – as with a regular, expensive microscope – samples are placed on a slide and coated with a photonic material. This is then placed in the cradle under a bespoke lens directly underneath the camera which – coupled with an app – can get an accurate reading and analysis of the substance within a few minutes.
What’s most impressive is that this kit costs only $200 in total, tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than a lab spectrophotometer. I don’t know about you, but, having top-notch medical equipment available as cheaply and in as portable a solution can only mean good things, particularly for doctors in the field within less wealthy nations with little medical development.
Development will continue on the product as the researches tweak the app and system to make it more flexible, and give it a broad range of abilities. To find out more, head on over to news.illinois.edu.