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To Boldly Go… a tricorder for the Navy?

by Tammy White, Office of Naval Research 

Star Trek‘ movies and TV series spelled big business for Paramount Pictures. Trekkers-and we all know (or are) one-can rattle off dozens of fictional devices straight from the scenes of the sci-fi powerhouse.

But did the movie reel influence a real-life medical device?

We’re not writing this off to the old adage that “life imitates art,” but, it’s pretty hard to dismiss the uncanny functional similarities between Star Trek’s tricorder and the Infrascanner, a device sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and approved by the FDA December 2011. Both hand-held devices scanned for varying degrees of injury.

The Infrascanner uses near-infrared technology to penetrate the skull and locate bleeding in the brain, according to ONR officials. (Hollywood hasn’t divulged the inner workings of the tricorder just yet.)

“Naval warfighters, on ship or land, may be a great distance away from any definitive medical care,” said Dr. Michael Given, ONR’s program manager for expeditionary medicine, combat casualty care. “So something like this could be very useful, almost essential.”

Current medical imaging machines, like x-rays or MRIs, are too big and heavy for all but the largest ships like aircraft carriers — so you can understand why they don’t work for expeditionary forces in remote locations.

So, while ONR may be focused on equipping ships and personnel with advanced medical technology for actual practice, it may have just set the bar for future explorers to boldly go where no man has gone before.



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