by Hugh McDonald, Executive Producer January 16th, 2019
In early 2018, the XPRIZE Foundation came to Ideum with an exciting idea: work with us to build an engaging interactive exhibit about emerging medical technologies and install it at 5 US science museums. We accepted the challenge, and after months of interface design, hardware and software development, and user testing (including a daylong evaluation session at Albuquerque’s own Explora Science Center), these high-tech exhibits are debuting at science centers on both coasts at no cost to participating museums.
The exhibit runs on a 65” Ideum Platform multitouch table. The experience includes three modules that focus on different ways of learning about medical technology. At Scan Yourself, visitors use fingertip sensors to track their heart rate, skin temperature, and galvanic skin response. Build a Medical Scanner lets visitors design their own 3D diagnostic device to focus on specific health scenarios. And at Diagnosis, two visitors become collaborating physicians to examine a patient with a mystery illness.
These scenarios were designed to facilitate social interaction, spur investigation of STEM careers in technology and the health sciences, and prompt experimentation with critical thinking and hypothesis testing. And now, visitors at 5 US museums—Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ; the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego; the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose; the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland; and Seattle’s Pacific Science Center—can dive into them to explore the world of emerging medical technology.
The exhibit’s innovative and highly social interface is complemented by the table’s custom hardware. Ideum designed and engineered a special Arduino-driven panel to run the dedicated fingertip sensors for Scan Yourself. And embedded in the table’s casing and base are LED strips with adjustable lighting, adding to the futuristic allure of the table’s onscreen diagnostic windows.
The exhibit’s location at a range of science centers also provides an unusual opportunity to assess engagement and learning using the same experience at different venues. Ideum and XPRIZE are now discussing the possibility of gathering visitor data at several sites to understand more about key elements that make museum exhibits intuitive and memorable.
The idea for the exhibit was born during the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition, in which design teams envisioned feasible medical “tricorders” like those used on Star Trek, the influential 1960s television series that spawned a long series of popular film and TV sequels and prequels. On Trek and its children, the tricorder was a handheld scanner that quickly gave Starfleet doctors clues about a patient’s illness or injury. At the time, the tricorder was nearly as fanciful as the warp engines of the Starship Enterprise.
But today, advances in processing power and imaging technologies are making it possible to diagnose more and more serious illnesses in non-invasive ways, an ability particularly important for rural communities far from doctors or hospitals. That realization led to the XPRIZE competition’s goal of sparking interest and innovation in medical technology—and ultimately to this exhibit, which is now prompting experimentation and discovery around the country.