Tricorder Project Brings The Fabled Devices Into Existence

Whether or not you love Star Trek we’d bet you know what a Tricorder is. The handheld device capable of gathering information about the environment around you, or taking health diagnostics about an injured crew member, seemed like unfathomably advanced technology when first seen on the original television series. But our technology has advance so quickly that you can now build a Tricorder of your own. That’s exactly what [Peter Jansen] has done. He founded the Tricorder project as a way to put a useful scientific instrument in the hands for the curious masses.

In the promo video embedded after the break [Dr. Jansen] gives us a recap of his progress so far. Three versions of the project have already been produced, and a fourth is under way. The first iteration could take atmospheric, spacial, and magnetic readings. This covers things like temperature, humidity, GPS data, light intensity, and distance measurements among others. Housed in a dark grey case it looks much like the original prop.

The second model, which is seen above, implements a swapable sensor board. That’s the part hanging off the top, but the finished model will enclose that part of the case. The hardware on this is fantastic, using an ARM processor running Linux and two 2.8″ OLED touchscreen displays. But both of these models have a price tag that’s just too high for widespread use. He’s been working on two more, the Mark 3 and Mark 4. The most recent is in software development right now with the hopes of mass production when all the details are worked out.

There’s a lot of info to dig through on the project’s site. It’s open source and all the goodies we usually look for are there.


[Thanks to everyone who sent in a tip about this]

34 thoughts on “Tricorder Project Brings The Fabled Devices Into Existence

  1. I believe it’s 100% okay to market it as a “Tricorder” as well. Supposedly, Gene requested that any sensing device like those in the Star Trek series would be permitted to use the name. Of course, that means ANYONE who makes a portable computerized sensing device can call it a Tricorder, but it’s still cool.

    I can see it now. “The new Samsung Galaxy Tricorder, only at AT&T” vs “Apple iCorder” rofl

    1. Or contain it in a cartridge (like the original Game Boy cartridge). The memory cards from TOS looked quite similar. Make the cartridge cases different colors to represent what the sensor inside is doing, and you’re in business! You’re welcome. :-)

    1. There are many seperate devices that take medical measurements now, blood for diabeates, urine, salivia, etc, that use little test strips that plug into a main unit, if he put a universial reader for these strips into the swappable sensor board this could be a very useful tool for everyone from doctors to hypocondriacs,

  2. As a fan of the Android Tricorder App (Free) i often thought it would be good to add its GUI to an external sensor device via bluetooth and give it even more functions. although the android version has many already…

    1. That’s what I was thinking. Your average free-on-contract phone has half of those sensors covered already in a package a fraction of the size, plus has a potential connection to millions of relevant databases.

      What would really make this interesting would be to throw in an X-ray fluorescence analyzer and a wideband SDR. I’m surprised nobody’s tried to DIY an XRF sensor.

      1. Zee says:
        March 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm

        How are you going to generate Xrays from a handheld device?
        Many generative sensing problems are in fact problems of low detector sensitivity. For instance, our eyes don’t need to generate light for us to see, although at night we usually can’t rely on ambient light level. However, owls and cats can! So, that concept is viable.

        Make very sensitive and directional passive detector and use natural floor level gamma rays.

    1. If you read through his website, he is actually use using the iPhone keyboard bitmap as a placeholder for the touchscreen interface. He specifically mentions that you could use an Android one or a custom one.

  3. It’s great that someone has bothered to get all these parts in one board but I’m just wondering why these have to be prohibitively expensive?

    All of the sensors on the science tricorder are your standard relatively cheap sparkfun breakout boards (in fact, I think you can buy every single one of those sensors from sparkfun). With that in mind, you could really use any random linux board with a screen and hook them all up. Does it even need linux on it? couldn’t a lower cost non-linux mcu be used?

    Not knocking the tricorder project, anything that tries to improve our understanding of the natural world is great in my eyes :)

  4. There’s a Tricorder app for Android phones. It displays data from the many sensors commonly found in smartphones.

    Even though the app was free, Paramount sent the developer a letter telling him to stop work on it. Haven’t seen a Tricorder app from Paramount. They could have offered to pay the guy for the app and funded its continued development then offered it as a product tie-in to the movie.

    Nope! Can’t have logic get in the way of corporate marketing stupidity.

  5. use recycled Galaxy S screens for the displays?
    who cares if there are minor glitches, just don’t use the blue at all.
    Samsung could make up for their failure to include an anti-burn option in the firmware and sell the screens at a discount to Sparkfun or something.

    OLEDs are ridiculously bright and low power, ideal for this application if they weren’t crazy expensive.

  6. re. X-rays.
    Cool-X do one, then there’s the “x-rays from laser plasma in vacuum” and “x-rays from sellotape”….
    I came up with one too, use a shaped piece of Rochelle salt with microtip mounted on a Peltier in a vacuum.
    Not tested but should work well.
    Two such units with common cooler would also generate neutrons as well (!) which could detect heavy isotopes such as plutonium at a distance.

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