Everyone knows what a Tricorder is supposed to do; Star Trek’s cultural influence has spread far and wide. Designing a device that could actually do the job is another matter entirely, although the people behind the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE had enough faith to put up $10 million as an incentive to pull the idea further towards reality. One hand-held system that’s definitely along the right lines is called the Cyclops, and uses LEDs to shine different wavelengths of light onto an unknown substance and rapidly analyse the reflections it gets back. For now it’s limited to surface and only slightly sub-surface analysis, but it turns out there’s a lot you could do with just that functionality, and developers Visualant are working on ways to build into a medical probe too. I interviewed their CEO about it, and what the ramifications might be.

Biophotonics is a growth area and likely to stay that way for a while, especially at places like University College, London, which is becoming one center for UK research in the field. I wrote about three of their projects for, including some near-infrared imaging technology that’s already left the lab; and more on that potential use of optogenetics to switch off epilepsy, an approach where the regulators will need some further convincing.