Combadge Project Wants To Bring Trek Tech To Life

While there’s still something undeniably cool about the flip-open communicators used in the original Star Trek, the fact is, they don’t really look all that futuristic compared to modern mobile phones. But the upgraded “combadges” used in Star Trek: The Next Generation and its various large and small screen spin-offs — now that’s a tech we’re still trying to catch up to.

As it turns out, it might not be as far away as we thought. A company called Vocera actually put out a few models of WiFi “Communication Badges” in the early 2000s that were intended for hospital use, which these days can be had on eBay for as little as $25 USD. Unfortunately, they’re basically worthless without a proprietary back-end system. Or at least, that was the case before the Combadge project got involved.

Designed for folks who really want to start each conversation with a brisk tap on the chest, the primary project of Combadge is the Spin Doctor server, which is a drop-in replacement for the original software that controlled the Vocera badges. Or at least, that’s the goal. Right now not everything is working, but it’s at the point where you can connect multiple badges to a server, assign them users, and make calls between them.

It also features some early speech recognition capabilities, with transcriptions being generated for the voices picked up on each badge. Long-term, one of the goals is to be able to plug the output of this server into your home automation system. So you could tap your chest and ask the computer to turn on the front porch light, or as the documentation hopefully prophesies, start the coffee maker.

There hasn’t been much activity on the project in the last year or so, but perhaps that’s just because the right group of rabid nerds dedicated developers has yet to come onboard. Maybe the Hackaday community could lend a hand? After all, we know how much you like talking to your electronics. The hardware is cheap and the source is open, what more could you ask for?

16 thoughts on “Combadge Project Wants To Bring Trek Tech To Life

  1. “While there’s still something undeniably cool about the flip-open communicators used in the original Star Trek, the fact is, they don’t really look all that futuristic compared to modern mobile phones.”

    I disagree :) . The modern phone has no blinking status lights, no obvious switches or dials… just a rectangular flat screen to look at… No flip cover for protection even. To slim. No battery ‘pack’ even for replacement batteries when you run out of power or just need a new battery…. Blah, a smart-phone has no class what-so-ever…. Not ‘modern’ looking at all! IMHO. :D

    At least the device above has some buttons and such :) . Closer to what a ‘modern’ device should look like. LOL

    1. One of the hospital systems near where I live already has these. That’s not to say I don’t think this project deserves attention. It’s either the Cleveland Clinic or University Hospitals; I forget which. The nurses would hit a button and ask it to call somebody, or they would ask where somebody is and it would tell them. probably uses a combination of what access point it’s connected to and maybe RFID sensors as well to determine location. It also had a privacy mode where it wouldn’t connect unless the recipient agreed to. and it had a different mode. I don’t know what it was called where it would connect them instantly similar to Star Trek

  2. Proprietary server? Like a Blackberry? Like the U.S. Military uses Teams for phone service?

    The communicators could communicate with a ship in orbit and they could be made to explode. Until cheap tristators from China become widely available I don’t see this going far.

    I’m for, not against this, the thing about a walking baby is not how well it walks but that it walks at all. Thanks!

    There was a much more primitive device to the one referenced in the TV miniseries Summer of Rockets.

  3. I was recently thinking that Humane badge thing would’ve been a neat comm badge if they hadn’t done all of the extra stuff with a mini projector and inaccurate AI results and such things that also made it really expensive with poor battery life.

  4. We use Vocera at work at the hospital . They are absolutely horrible. To call someone you need to say their first and last name. Don’t know the name of the part time tech on other side of campus? Too bad. Try to call an emergency it will hear you wrong with total shit voice recognition and call Janie from accounting instead. Text pagers are literally more reliable and useful. So we still have those too.
    Healthcare tech is the WORST.

    1. I also use them at work (at a hospital) … they’re great when they actually recognize who you’re trying to contact. Admittedly there are too many times that they interpret what you say completely wrong.

      They can be “trained” if there are people you contact regularly (e.g. charge nurses) and some folks do that and they work better that way.

    2. Having worked with Vocera systems for several systems for many years, it is a horrible system.

      However, the system is designed so that users add themselves to groups, so you make a call to the relevant group, rather than the persons name.

      However, getting users (generally Doctors) to add themselves to the groups is a battle, even when we have the system set to automatically prompt to ask to add to multiple groups at login.

      The tech isn’t cheap at ~£400 for a battery and B3000n badge. They recommend 2 batteries for a badge.(Batteries are propriety).

      The chargers have a design flaw where the pins get damaged when batteries are inserted. Chargers are expensive as well.

      The B3000n is no longer made and has been marked as EOL

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