THP Entry: The Improved Open Source Tricorder


Since [Gene Roddenberry] traveled back in time from the 23rd century, the idea of a small, portable device has wound its way through the social consciousness, eventually turning into things like smartphones, PDAs, and all the other technological gadgetry of modern life. A few years ago, [Peter Jansen] started The Tricorder Project, the start of the ultimate expression of [Mr. Roddneberry]‘s electronic swiss army knife. Now [Peter] is building a better, smaller version for The Hackaday Prize.

[Peter]‘s first tricorders borrowed their design heavily from The Next Generation props with a fold-out section, two displays, and a bulky front packed to the gills with sensors and detectors. Accurate if you’re cosplaying, but not the most practical in terms of interface and human factors consideration. These constraints led [Peter] to completely redesign his tricorder, disregarding the painted wooden blocks found on Enterprise and putting all the electronics in a more usable form factor.

A muse of sorts was found in the Radiation Watch, a tiny, handheld Geiger counter meant as an add-on to smartphones. [Peter] envisions a small ~1.5″ OLED display on top, a capacitive sensing wheel in the middle, and a swipe bar at the bottom. Basically, it looks like a 1st gen iPod nano, but much, much more useful.

Plans for what to put in this improved tricorder include temperature, humidity, pressure, and gas sensors, a 3-axis magnetometer, x-ray and gamma ray detectors, a polarimeter, colorimeter, spectrometer, 9-axis IMU, a microphone, a lightning sensor, and WiFi courtesy of TI’s CC3000 module. Also included is something akin to a nuclear event detector; if it still exists, there has been no nuclear event.

It’s an astonishing array of technology packed into an extremely small enclosure – impressive for something that is essentially a homebrew device.Even if it doesn’t win the Hackaday Prize, it’s still an ambitious attempt at putting data collection and science in everyone’s pocket – just like in Star Trek.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

Hyperspectral Imaging With A DSLR


It’s a relatively simple task to find evidence of helium by just looking at the sun; all you need is a prism, diffraction grating, and a web cam. DIY spectrometers have been around for ages, but most of them only produce a spectrum, not a full image complete with spectral data. Now it’s possible to take an image of an object, complete with that objects spectra using a DSLR, some lenses, a PVC pipe, and the same diffraction grating from your DIY interferometer.

The idea behind a hyperspectral imager is to gather the spectral data of each pixel of an image. The spectral data is then assembled into a 3D data cube, with two dimensions dedicated to the image, and the third dimension used to represent wavelength. There are a surprising number of applications for this technique, ranging from agriculture and medicine to some extremely creepy surveillance systems.

The authors of this paper (freakin’ huge PDF) used a piece of PVC pipe, three camera lenses, a diffraction grating, and a small paper aperture to construct their hyperspectral imager. Images are captured using a standard, multi exposure HDR method, assembling the raw data from the camera into a hyperspectral image with MATLAB.

There’s a ton of awesome info in the PDF, covering how the authors calibrated their system for different lighting conditions, interpreted the RGGB Bayer sensor in the camera, and a few examples of what kind of image can be constructed with this kind of data. That’s a recommended read, right there.

Thanks [Yannick] for the tip.

LED Bulb Reviews, Evaluations and Teardowns

LED Bulb Reviews

[ElectronUpdate] has posted many great reviews of commercial LED bulbs that one can purchase to replace standard E26 incandescent light bulbs. In his reviews he evaluates the light emitting performance and does a thorough and detailed teardown, evaluating and understanding the circuit technologies used. For the light emission evaluation he uses a light meter and some homemade graph paper to plot the lumens at different angles. Flicker is easily evaluated using a solar panel from a discarded solar path light connected to his oscilloscope. Any flicker will show up quite nicely and can be measured. Of course a kill-a-watt meter makes an appearance in most reviews to read watts and power factor.

Recently [ElectronUpdate] wanted to understand the meaning of CRI which is advertised on many of these commercial LED packages. CRI stands for color rendering index and deals with how colors appear when compared to a natural light source. After doing some researching he found that a CRI over 80 is probably good for LED lighting. The next dilemma was how to measure CRI without expensive scientific equipment. He found a website that we have featured before with free software and instructions on how to build a spectrometer. The web instructions include building a meter box from paper but he found it was much more reliable if built out of wood. We’ll let you follow [ElectronUpdate’s] recommended build if you like, but you’ll need a few items which he does detail.

After a short calibration procedure the final rig will measure power spectral line densities of your light source. [ElectronUpdate] is promising more details on how the colorful measurement data can be related to CRI ratings, but you can get a jump on the details at Full Spectrum Solutions. We also recommend you browse through all of [ElectronUpdate’s] LED bulb reviews on YouTube if the progressing performance and innards of LED bulbs fascinates you as much as it does us.

Turning a webcam into a spectrometer

If you want to find out what something is made out of, you’ll probably be using a spectrometer. These devices allow scientists to determine what something is made of by shining light through an object and recording what colors are absorbed. Professional spectrometers cost many thousands of dollars, but you can build your own using a simple USB web cam, an old DVD-R, and a VHS cassette case.

In this tutorial of Public Labs’ DIY video spectrometer, [Jeffery] takes us through the process of building a spectrometer. After cutting a small bit of plastic from a DVD-R and mounting it on the lens of a web cam, [Jeff] puts the webcam in a VHS case and shines a light through a small slit. The result is a rainbow pattern captured by the webcam, and by putting different translucent materials in front of the light source, the spectrum slightly changes.

Of course a DIY spectrometer is nearly useless without a library of materials and their associated spectra. [Jeffery] is working on this as well with a wiki-style app called Spectral Workbench.

There’s a video tutorial for making your own DIY spectrometer available after the break. It seems like an easy build, if you can find the requisite VHS cassette case in your basement and/or attic.

[Read more...]

Cellphone microscope for about $20

Medical-grade microscope photography for $20 might be a game changer in areas where medical services are unavailable. This particular hack uses an iPhone’s 2 megapixel camera, as well as a tiny glass marble, to magnify a sample to about 350 times its actual size. The two images seen on the left are red blood cells photographed with the improvised microscope. The main issue with this magnification method is a very thin plane of focus that is overcome with processing in software.

This makes us think of the microscope hack that shined a laser through a droplet of water, to project the image on a wall. The concept was later refined to work with samples on glass slides. There are a couple of distinct advantages to using this cellphone-based method. First, the sample can be seen with its true colors. Second, you not only magnify the sample, but you have a digitized image already on a device that connects to the Internet. If you’re trying to make a medical diagnosis this can easily be sent to a qualified professional for analysis.

The team that came up with this technique also figured out how to build a cellphone-based spectrometer for just a few bucks. The image in the upper right is the result of that hack. Both have a step-by-step build guide on the page linked at the top. The microscope is just a glass bead in a piece of rubber, as seen here. The spectrometer is a bit more involved.

[Thanks Fabien]

Building a spectrophotometer

What can you make with a toilet paper roll, duct tape, and a graphing calculator? A stand for your homemade spectrometer. This is neither as pretty nor as accurate as a precision scientific instrument, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. In fact, it works perfectly well for rudimentary observations. Light is shined through a sample solution, passes through a diffraction grating, then shows up as bands of color on the projection surface seen above. The photosensor mounted on the cardboard tube was pulled from a night-light, and is read using the ruler and the multimeter. This results in two data units that are used to graph the results. As long as you’re running test samples as a control this simple setup will yield useful information for the scientist on a shoe-string budget.

[via BoingBoing]