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.

27 thoughts on “THP Entry: The Improved Open Source Tricorder

      1. I thought it measures clicks and beeps. I knew the one at school was broken.

        On a serious note, didn’t one of your articles talked about using a Geiger counter without a tube?

      2. So, much like how the millihelen is a measurement of beauty representing the amount of beauty it takes to launch a single ship, a Geiger is a unit of measurement that quantifies how organically horrifying something is?

  1. Talking sensors: I wonder if those phones with fingerprint scanners can be used as a small objects scanner instead? Does it output a picture? Because I think you could analyze stuff with such a thing, like fabrics and if money is genuine and maybe ID bugs and pollen or seeds or some such.

    And if you can get hold of them to incorporate in your own projects.. you got another sensor for a tricorder.

  2. Yup, object scanner would be handy.

    I did have a thought about a hyperspectral imager, turns out that a B/W camera if suitably modified with an IR1 IR2 IR1 NIR ROYGBIV UVA UVB LED array in place of the normal white can scan at 12 wavelengths one after the other for a much higher resolution (ie 29MP) with an inexpensive camera module.
    If lasers are used and some sort of sequential dot cloud projector then it could also do 3D like the one on the Microsoft Xbox scanner.

    I’m amazed that there isn’t an I2C chip out there already which can generate lots of wavelengths at different brightness settings with thermal feedback to keep the emission stable.

    1. Most people are only concerned with visible light, that is why there is no product like you are invisioning. Also LEDs have a pretty awful bandwidth compared to laser diodes and color can be different between batches. You could put laser diode dies on a common substrate and build one yourself. It would be a bit of a nightmare, though.

    2. An idea very similar to this is actively being pursued by a number of sensor companies, so you’re definitely on the right track. The idea is that they take a conventional 2D CCD or CMOS sensor that you’d normally use for a camera, and instead of placing a bayer RGBG pattern, replace that with a bunch of narrow band filters (for example, have 10 or 20 narrow-bad wavelength filters that cover the spectrum of “red” rather than one broad one). Doing this you could measure many more narrow-band wavelengths (or “spectral channels”) over a broad region, and have a spectral camera or “spectral imager”.

      The advantages of this approach are that you’d be able to leverage much of an existing pipeline, and much of existing sensors. In practice, even though folks have been working on this for quite some time, I think they’re generally having difficulty getting the process down at the silicon fab — having to put three RGB filters on has been mastered over a lot of years, but having to put on 16, 32, 64, or more filters becomes a very difficult problem of fab-related process chemistry.

      There’s also the issue of what you’d like to do with the spectra after you acquire them. These would still be very low resolution spectra, and an instrument with 16 or 32 spectral channels is still very low resolution and isn’t terribly useful for general spectroscopy or spectroscopic identification/chemical classification unless the spectral bins were designed for some very particular task, like the medical task of looking for the presence of a particular disease in a biological sample.

  3. This is really great.
    I’d like to seehear more of the electromagnetic spectrum, though.
    How about integrating a rtlsdr receiver, maybe with upconverter for hf?
    Imagine you land on a newly discovered planet, wouldn’t you want to know if anybody/anything is there, sending out radio waves?

  4. I don’t know,a tricorder that doesn’t fold up just doesn’t seem right. Not in love with the ipod nano look. Love the idea and features though. If you must reuse a chassis design, how about the old razor?

  5. Looking at his new “Slider” design this guy needs to check out the old Psion II organizer.
    Seriously, has he never seen one before? It’s like he is re-designing the wheel.

  6. I work on a small R&D team that designs and integrates spectrometers. That NeoPixel isn’t going to work as a light source. Consider a 12V Xenon Flash module. They’re full spectrum and, if you time things properly, they won’t drain your battery. Also, because Xenon sources emit far into the IR you can stimulate overtone responses you’ll be able to see in the 700-1000nm range. …Just a thought.

  7. I find it mildly amusing that the linked Nuclear Event Detector device has this statement in the datasheet.

    “Maxwell Technologies’ products are not authorized for use as critical components in life support devices or systems without express written approval from Maxwell Technologies.”

    Yes, I know that’s standard boilerplate, but given the intended usage of the device I think it’s kinda funny. :-)

  8. Xenon flash?! Thats pretty steampunk but thanks for the tip :-)

    I have a few old disposable cameras from my HV hacking, even a “dead” deformed and shorted capacitor doesen’t mean the tube is also fried.

    Maybe I can bodge together a variable spectral filter using a spinning wheel or something, made from harvested BD-R disk fragments at increasing angles?
    (110 degree versus 65 degree for DVD and surface coating of 0.1mm versus 0.5mm)

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