A Real Star Trek Communicator Badge

Star Trek has never let technology get in the way of a good story. Gene Roddenberry and the writers of the show thought up some amazing gadgets, from transporters to replicators to the warp core itself. Star Trek: The Next Generation brought us the iconic communicator badge. In 1987, a long-range radio device which could fit in a pin was science fiction. [Joe] is bringing these badges a bit closer to the real world with his entry in the 2017 Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest.

trek-thumbThe first problem [Joe] dealt with was finding a radio which could run from watch batteries, and provide decently long-range operations. He chose the HopeRF RFM69HCW. Bringing fiction a bit closer to reality, this module has been used for orbital communications with low-cost satellites.

The Badge’s processor is a Teensy LC. [Joe] is rolling his own Teensy, which means using bootloader chips from PJRC, as well as the main microcontroller. Kicking the main micro into operation is where [Joe] is stuck right now. Somewhere between the breadboard and the first spin of the surface mount PCB things went a bit sideways. The oscillators are running, but there are no USB communications. [Joe] is trying another board spin. He made a few improvements and already has new boards on the way. Switching to a toaster oven or skillet paste and solder setup would definitely help him get the new badges up and running.

63 thoughts on “A Real Star Trek Communicator Badge

      1. It does say it’s bluetooth and that it connects to your phone, tablet or computer. I think the official one is meant to be used the same as a bluetooth headset. In that way you could actually communicate long distance over other networks like phone or skype. Still not nearly as cool as this DIY one. Please no one tell CBS, or they’ll ruin another vaguely Star Trek themed project.

          1. Internet says:
            February 21, 2017 at 2:08 pm

            *cough* Axanar *cough*

            All of that US-comedic behind-hand crap is redundant. If you cough loudly enough to attract the attention of someone to pass a comment/answer to something they require an answer to then you would have to speak that answer loudly enough for them to hear and thus, for others to hear. If you cough quietly enough so that only one person is to hear then it would be far more covert to tap them on the shoulder and quietly speak/whisper whatever it was they required. It would be infinitely worse if you were British and using cheap US comedy techniques to put across your point.

            But then US-comedy is generaly either telegraphed days ahead or dumb enough for idiots to laugh at. Such as having one person only speak in Spanish but is quite capable of understanding complex English spoken to them.

            This comment was hacked together using a Spanish-English comedy translator built into a Star Trek communicator. “Beam me up, Pedro.”

        1. What it does not say is “It’s too thick and looks cheap and tacky with the quality of a $1 store surpassing it”, I’ve got a Bluetooth earpiece quiet small it is which could be fitted to a gutted metal combadge prop.

          Startrek shop is a joke.

    1. Someone isn’t aware of the wonders of amateur radio satellite comms. You can hit several satellites with a 5w handheld transceiver, and XM satellite radios have been receiving satellite broadcasts for well over a decade now. Then there’s GPS…so what is “impossible with today’s electronics”, exactly?

          1. Amateur Radio Satellite communications, better known as AMSAT. [infrared411] is a know-nothing troll who doesn’t know the difference between a diode and a capacitor, but he’s trying to dispense “knowledge” about how it’s impossible to do what hams have been doing regularly for decades.

          1. says the guy who commented on my original comment. who is trolling whom now? I do not understand what your deal is but we are not talking 5 watt handheld tx. What this entire post is about is a small badge capable of interplanetary comms that can “patch” you through immediately to the persons name you call out. Sorry to be the one correcting you and correct me if I am wrong please.

          2. In the comment I replied to you insisted that satellite to earth communication is impossible with today’s technology. That’s absurd on its face; why do you think satellites even exist? If you’re not trolling, you’re extremely ignorant of basic space-to-earth communication.

            If you were trying to say that such a tiny, low power device can’t directly transmit to a satellite (earth to orbit) then yes, that’s likely true. But that’s not what you said; you said orbit to earth, i.e. satellite to earth bound receiver.

            In any case, your ignorance and/or trollishness is showing just as it has in the past, and I have no qualms about calling you out for it.

        1. You said:

          “long range (from orbit to planet surface) seems impossible with today’s electronics”

          I disagree. Orbit to planet comms is the entire point of GPS, satellite radio, military satellites, satellite TV, and AMSAT, just to name a few. This is not only possible with today’s electronics, it’s been possible for over half a century. The circuitry in your cellphone that allows you to receive satellite signals (GPS/GLONASS) is smaller than what’s in the badge you’re discussing.

          Once again, you probably meant planet to orbit comms at this scale, in which case I’d agree with you, and you simply owning up to a typo would go far towards rectifying this situation. However, you doubled down on your insistence that orbit to planet is simply not possible despite everyone knowing it is, which in my eyes screams “troll”. And again, it’s not the first time you’ve pulled this shit.

          But whatever, you got your fifteen minutes of fame, and I’m done.

      1. Actually, its not that exact chip. Same manufacturer, but different chip. $50Sat used the RFM22B, which is based on the Silicon Labs Si4432. The RFM69HCW is based on the Semtech SX1231H. Both have 100mW output though and you can easily receive a 100mW signal transmitted by a satellite. And yes, the uplink needs a power boost for the satellite to hear the signal properly.

      1. Also, with even that modestly dense layout, I /really/ hope he adjusts his DRC settings to tent most of those vias!

        I see some potential issues with the rear side of the RFM69HCW and that cluster of exposed vias on the inner-top-left of the module footprint.

    1. 33 feet is the Bluetooth range from the badge to your phone.. Not from badge to badge. I don’t get how Bluetooth is lost on some people. Its only been out for 10+ years now!

  1. I wonder if Codec2 can reasonably work in the CPU power of this device. If so, maybe it can be run in the slower data modes and get some reasonable ground distance between badges. The $50 satellite device seemed to get a very long range using 1k mode. Thought line of sight is much longer when we are talking ground to sky rather than ground to ground. If a hobbyist could crack the secret behind making a balloon stay up in the stratosphere for a long time then that would be a cheap “satellite” for these purposes. It’s happened on accident before.

  2. The on-screen TNG communicator violates information theory: Riker, for instance, would tap his chest and say, “Riker to Picard” and without more than a beat for a pause, get a “Picard here” response. Sure, it’s for editing sake: we don’t want to hear the several second pause of the computer parsing the request, notifying the recipient, and the recipient responding. I figure three second minimum in a real world situation.

    Which beats the snot out of my 2009 Hyundai’s voice response, which pipes up after a couple seconds with ‘Calling Picard…. on Mobile… Say, “Yes,” to continue… or say “Go Back,”… or “Cancel”‘ — about 12 seconds, before it even thinks about dialing.

      1. Did you mean to say “quantum entangled” instead of “Subspace”? I understand that the Chinese are going to/have launched a satellite to experiment with instantaneous, undetectable, un-jammable , communications.

        As always, the imaginations of the storytellers paint targets for the engineers to hit. It’s pretty okay to be human.

        1. We could say that, but there’s still a rather big issue in the way. I, and many other would like that not to be the case, if for no other reason, an internet that’s free in beer and freedom, with no NSA snooping would be possible. That alone would destroy a lot of institutions, business and government.

    1. Even worse than that, there’s a Voyager episode where Tuvok calls Ensign Kim while they are both on the bridge. You can hear his voice coming out of Kim’s commbadge in real-time before he even specifies who he is trying to call. I think it’s first season, episode 6 from my cursory googling. No good youtube videos of it though.

      1. Maybe Voyager’s commbadges work like a party line. The initiation call is multicast, then whoever the call is supposed to be for ‘picks up’ and the call goes peer-to-peer from there.

        Or maybe that episode was edited on a Friday afternoon.

    2. I’m not a trek buff but know a bit about radio comms. Do they ever explain that it isn’t just a general call? ie before trunked radio systems a police radio system (ham repeater etc.) would work like “51 to dispatch” (or “kk4xx this is kk4yy” etc) and “everyone” hears it but only dispatch (or kk4xx) responds to the call since it was only directed at them. Simple, no speech recognition required.

    3. There’s something I’ve always wondered about concerning the difference between the TOS communicators and the NG+ comm badges.

      The TOS communicators didn’t seem to have any individual identity to them, meaning that Kirk could use any communicator, Spock could use any communicator, etc. Thus, they would have to say “Kirk to Enterprise” to notify the called party who the caller is.

      But with NG and on, the comm badges seem to be tied to the user (e.g., “We’ve locked onto Picard’s comm signal”). Sooooo, what is the point in hitting the comm badge and saying “Picard to Riker” — wouldn’t Picard simply need to say “Riker”?

      Now, you may be thinking that I’m just nit-picking, but there’s a point to my rambling — wouldn’t the voice recognition process for this project become simpler (faster) if the user only had to say who he/she was calling?

      1. I’d hypothesize that the “Picard to…” bit was to initiate the voice recognition, such as “Siri…”, “Alexa…”, or “Hey Cortana…” does today. That way, the communicator knows when it’s being spoken to, as opposed to Riker’s name coming up in a conversation with another crew member.

    1. I think you are vastly overestimating the data rates that LoRa is designed for! LoRa is really very much intended for several Kb over the space of an hour, or something in that ballpark!

      1. We need an edit button…

        To be fair, I’m talking about data rate on an existing, LoRa network, such as the SIGFOX or other. There are many fair-use stipulations that define the network data rate, even though the underlying hardware is capable of more.

        So… Yeah, actually, That’s possible I guess, just would need to roll your own network!

        1. Not sure about the US but here in Europe the 868Mhz ISM band that Sigfox and LoRa use, dictates a max. 1% duty cycle, as well as low bandwidth. That makes any kind of voice communications impossible.

          1. Quite so,

            Even though the hardware transceivers used can still surpass these data rates, there are fair use policies for that spectrum that have the restrictions you have mentioned.

            I knew I had some memory of this from the LoRa talks Microchip gave last year!

  3. Would there not be some background noise involved…ie, real noise, not electric static or some such?

    The badge is worn on the chest, not as close as either a bluetooth headset, a wired headset or a bone-conductive thing. Trek never had a problem with red shirts speaking/getting slaughtered in the background and recipients picking that up in badge-badge communications.

  4. I just bought one off ebay and the volume is very low. It can be used in a very quiet environment other than that it’s just a high dollar chirp.
    I may try it hooked to my android after I disconnect it from my iPhone.
    The chirp is loud the speaker phone is not.
    I think we are talking about the same thing and is so keep your headset because we are not there yet…

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