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Starship enter prize: tech contest launches at Star Trek convention

Amidst warp drives, transporters and phasers there is one Star Trek technology that is close to becoming real – and organisers of the US-based X prize want UK researchers to make it happen.

Representatives of the X Prize are at the Star Trek London convention today to encourage UK teams to enter the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, named after the medical device that features in the science fiction series.

To win the $10 million (£6.2 million) prize teams must create a handheld device that can diagnose upward of 15 medical conditions or states and five vital signs.

“The goal is to seek out some more UK teams who may not have heard about this – let them know it exists, that the technology they’re creating is very real and that they can compete for a chance to win,” said Mark Winter, Prize Director of the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE.

Details of the competition will feature as part of the convention's opening event, which includes all five previous fictional captains of the Starship Enterprise.

Since its launch in January some 260 teams have declared an interest in the competition, which opens officially in November.

Despite the sci-fi link, the competition is a serious effort to produce a technology with a huge impact, said Mr Winter. “We’re seeking to create a device that could, for example, inform a consumer if their child just has a bad summer cold or if it’s pneumonia, or spot the early indications of diabetes,” he said.

Running in parallel with the Tricorder prize is the Nokia Sensing X Challenge. With a value of $2.25 million, it is focused on creating biosensors, which can range from the non-invasive, based on the colour of the interior of the eye, to adhesive tags and DNA fingerprinting.

The plan is to hold a conference at the Nokia Innovation Center in Cambridge in the New Year to bring inventors together to talk about the competitions.

Entries to both X prizes are not always conventional.

Graham Ewing, chief executive of UK firm Montague Healthcare said he is looking for university research partners to collaborate on his company’s “virtual scanning” technique, which purports to use the way in which a person perceives colour to give an indication of pathologies.

Although winning previous X prizes has required teams to spend significantly more than the eventual prize money, advantages in taking part include huge publicity and the opportunity to find other teams to collaborate with, said Mr Winter.

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