Nokia Joins X Prize in $2.25M Wireless Health “Sensing Challenge”

Xconomy San Diego — 

When the X Prize Foundation’s Peter Diamandis took the stage in San Diego this morning at the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance (WLSA) annual convergence summit, he said it was the perfect audience for announcing the foundation’s newest competition—the “Nokia Sensing X Challenge.”

The challenge, organized through a partnership with the Finnish wireless device manufacturer, is offering a total pool of $2.25 million in incentive prizes over the next three years to stimulate the development of health sensors and wireless sensing technologies.

“We’re living in a day and age where really small teams of individuals—people like yourselves—are empowered to do the things that only large corporations and governments could do before,” Diamandis told the audience. “We’re looking to foment, to push forward, to celebrate, to announce a new generation of healthcare biometric sensors.”

The competition that Diamandis outlined will offer $750,000 a year, beginning in 2013, to teams that have developed “the most outstanding” sensors for drastically improving the quality, accuracy, and ease of monitoring a person’s health. There will be multiple winners each year, but how many and how much prize money will be awarded to each team has not yet been determined, Diamandis later told me.

“We aim to facilitate and inspire research in an area where we are also seriously exploring,” said Nokia chief technology officer Henry Tirri, who joined Diamandis on the stage. The type of “open innovation” promoted by the X Prize competition “has proven to be a very interesting and engaging method of opening a very broad amount of innovation in a very different way,” Tirri added.

“Our goal is to create an ecosystem of the innovators and companies out there, and to give them the platform to really show your stuff to the entire planet,” Diamandis said.

“Why are we doing this? Number one, we need better sensors,” Diamandis added. “My car, my airplane, and my computer have more biometric sensing capabilities that we do as humans. We should be creating gigabytes of data per day about our bodies’ health, monitoring every single moment, every single second of what we do. The fact that it doesn’t exist right now is terrible.”

The timing is ideal, Diamandis explained, because the technologies needed to create new sensors are ready, the analytics needed to interpret the data is ready, the market is ready, “and you exist,” Diamandis told the audience. “This could not have been done 10 years ago. It can now,” he said. “Our goal really is to help stimulate and revolutionize healthcare. We need to expand sensors and sensing beyond disease management to areas like public health and fitness, and to give consumers 24/7 access to real-time data about their health.”

The challenge also is intended to supply the kind of innovative sensing technologies needed to win the ambitious $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize that was officially launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. (Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs previewed the idea for a mobile wireless health diagnostics device at last year’s WLSA summit.)

The Tricorder X Prize “is a competition that is asking teams to integrate sensors that will come out of the Nokia Sensing X Challenge, along with AI [artificial intelligence], cloud computing, and digital imaging, into handheld mobile devices that a consumer can use to diagnose themselves better than a board-certified doctor,” Diamandis said.

More than 185 teams from over 25 companies registered for the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize in the first 90 days after the competition was announced, Diamandis said, and he predicted that registration for the Nokia Sensing X Challenge would “at least meet if not exceed that.”

The challenge will be a global competition, open to any team that has developed “best in class” innovations in medical, mobile, sensors, and sensing technologies and will be judged based on “demonstrated validity, usability, relevance, originality, interoperability, and affordability.” Likely targets would be sensors needed for measuring biofluidics and tissues, structure and form, environment, kinematics, mood and emotion, and body physics.