Walter de Brouwer - Scanadu

Walter de Brouwer is a Belgian internet and technology entrepreneur, futurist, academic and scientist. He is the founder and CEO of Scanadu, a NASA Ames Research Center-based company with the mission of making this the last generation to know so little about our health.

After his son suffered a severe brain injury in 2005, he set out to learn more about medical technology, and founded Scanadu in 2010 to revolutionize home medicine and build the tricorder once imagined in Star Trek.

Prior to Scanadu, de Brouwer was the CEO of One Laptop Per Child Europe, aiming to empower the world's poorest children through education. Before that, he was the founder of Starlab, which specialized in blue skies research, deep future research, and BANG (Bits, Atoms, Neurons and Genes) research. Walter was also involved with Eunet-Qwest Comm and internet company Jobscape-Stepstone, both of which went public.

De Brouwer earned a Masters degree in linguistics from the University of Ghent and a PhD in Semiotics from Tilburg University. He was a lecturer at the University of Antwerp (UFSIA) and an adjunct professor at the International University of Monaco from 2001-2004. Read about his vision in the interview below:

Walter de Brouwer website:
USA Today article on the medical tricorder:
Huffington Post profile:

What are you most trying to accomplish in your work?
We want to make this the last generation to know so little about our health. By empowering consumers with knowledge and control, we can improve the doctor patient relationship and reduce anxiety and stress around our health.

What do you think sets your work apart from the work of others in your field?
The Scanadu Scout measures the same vitals any nurse in an emergency room or clinic would take upon your arrival. These base vitals are what determine your overall health at any moment and help nurses determine what treatment is needed. Traditionally, getting these vital signs would require several tools and multiple touch points - it’s time consuming and invasive. With Scanadu Scout, a nurse could be faster and more efficient in their diagnosis because they would only need one portable device rather than several clunky instruments.

No single other device reads your vitals in one action from one location on the body - it’s like putting together a massively complicated puzzle to make them all work analogously.

What or who inspired you to get into your field? Do you have any individuals or groups of people that you credit with helping you achieve the goals you set out to accomplish?
In 2005 I spent a year in the hospital with my son who had suffered a severe brain injury. I was completely in the dark about medicine, and felt such a sense of powerlessness. To cope with this frustration, I began to teach myself the machines and numbers. Once I understood the data, I felt at ease and was able to have better conversations with the doctors and even began to help the other people in the hospital.

I realized that there is no device right now that gives us, the patient, this type of information. The only thing we have at home is a thermometer. I am a Baby Boomer so I see everything through Star Trek. For me, it wasn’t a movie, it was a business plan. In 2010, with recent advances in sensors and mobile technology, I set out on the journey to make the medical tricorder a reality.

What role has serendipity played in the turning points in your career?
I’ve been lucky to have several careers in my life from academia and deep space research, to publishing to telecom. Each of these experiences have set me up for where I am now. It’s the people I’ve met along the way that have pulled me into new adventures or I’ve been able to bring along for mine. I’d say serendipity has played a big role.

What have been the greatest challenges that you have encountered in your career?
Overcoming the feeling of powerlessness when I was in the hospital with my son was very difficult emotionally. Now building this device that was my revelation several years ago has brought on a whole new set of challenges. They are exciting to work on but also very complex.

This is a very hard problem to solve, to fuse the sensors, and the data together to build a device that meets consumer and industry standards. We have an expert team of engineers, biologists, scientists, designers and doctors, but we are still experimenting and learning as we go. It will take time to get it just right, at two years in we are still learning and developing.

This device itself is very complex - 106 components with a deep layer of software on top that work together to create magic in the eyes on the consumer. In order to meet consumer, medical and FDA standards, we have to make sure the device is accurate, seamless and actionable. This is no simple feat.

Do you believe leaders and innovators have certain qualities that they all share? If so, what?
Determination. You are not going to succeed if you tell yourself no. I also think you have to be a bit crazy and take the risks. Some will pay off and some will not, but you’ll never get there if you don’t try.

How would you most like to change the world through your work?
What keeps our team going to is belief in our mission - we will succeed in making this the last generation to know so little about our health. Consumer-driven health monitoring will allow us to track and understand our personal health like never before. It will not only improve conversations with our doctors, but anticipate outbreaks, analyze trends and understand our community.

Just as understanding temperature with the thermometer was the narrative of the 20th century, today we want to understand the complexities of cardiovascular readings including blood pressure, heart rate and pulse oximetry. A tricorder will replace the thermometer in every medicine cabinet.

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