Hand-held scanners are a sci-fi staple, and no scanner does more than the famous Star Trek Tricorder! Unfortunately, technology is slow to catch up with Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future (see The Physics Of Star Trek), but with advancements like portable flip-communicators (mobile phones!) and transparent aluminium (aluminum oxynitride), it seems there is hope for cool futuristic tech in our lifetimes.
In recent years we’ve seen Smartphones with a multitude of in built sensors (e.g. magnetic & gyroscopic sensors) as well as a bunch of cool apps to take advantage of them (such as the now unavailable Tricorder app for Android phones). Dr Peter Jansen PhD decided it would be thoroughly awesome if he built all of those sensors into a hand-held device that looked like a Tricorder.
Then he called it a Tricorder.
That got us excited.
Why did Jansen invent this Tricorder?
Dr Jansen wanted to design a device that was easy and cheap to build, that could sense the hidden world of science around us (temperature, pressure, magnetism, etc). A device that would satisfy our curiosity and need to learn. As a man who ran around his house with a magnetic-field sensor app on his mobile trying to find things in the walls (because…why not?), such a device thoroughly excites me!
What does the Tricorder do?
Dr Jansen is currently working on the a new version of his Tricorder, the details of which he’s keeping under wraps. So let’s take a look at the current version, the Mark 2.
What sensors are built in, you ask?
- Ambient Temperature
- Ambient Humidity
- 3-axis Magnetic Field Sensor
- Atmospheric Pressure
- Non-Contact Temperature
- Ambient Light Level
- GPS Receiver
- Ultrasonic Distance Sensor (6 Meter Range)
You can find all the detailed specs on the Tricorder Project’s site as well as schematics and a list of parts to guide you in building your own Tricorder, but I’ll list a few specs for you here:
Processor: ARM920T 32-bit RISC 180MHz
Displays: 2x 2.8″ OLED 320×240, 16bit colour, resistive-touch input
Memory: 32MB SDRAM
Storage: 8MB boot flash & MicroSD port
Battery: Rechargeable 1000mAh Li-Ion
Other Ports: USB & Power Adapter
OS: Linux (on MicroSD)
“[the Mark 2 is] a little faster than a Nintendo DSi [...] about twice the RAM and higher resolution displays” – Dr Jansen
How much will it cost to build your own Tricorder?
Dr Jansen puts the cost of the Tricorder Mark 2 within the £60-120 ($100-200) range depending on where you buy your parts, which is a lot cheaper than the Mark 1′s steep £300 ($500) price tag. That sounds pretty accessible for what you get for your money, plus you can be the coolest person in any room by pulling out your Tricorder and scanning your friends.
And yes, your friends are all Klingons.
What’s the future for the Tricorder Project?
Dr Jansen is currently working on the fourth version of the Tricorder (after ditching the third version). Development started in early 2011, and according to his website he’s completed hardware fabrication and the device is now “undergoing software development”. Sweet!
“[The Mark 4 is] an experiment in further dramatically reducing the cost of a Tricorder without sacrificing visualization capabilities. My hope is that this may be an initial model that could be mass produced, and that folks could have in their hands.” – Dr Jansen
So go check out the Tricorder Project site for more details, and take a look at the short video below, in which Dr Jansen talks about his project!