Tuning Up The ThinkGeek Star Trek Intercom Panel

On Star Trek, all Kirk and friends had to do was snap the button on the always conveniently located intercom panel, start talking, and the intended recipient would immediately respond no matter where they were in the ship. How did it work? Who knows. In spite of, or perhaps even because of, the lightly-explained nature of the technology, the cherry-red wall intercoms still hold a certain charm for fans of the groundbreaking show.

A viewer sent [Fran Blanche] a scaled down replica of the intercom from ThinkGeek, and while it certainly looks fairly close to the original prop, it has a couple of annoying design elements. When triggered by the side-mounted motion sensors, the panel will play either the iconic swoosh of the automatic doors or the “Red Alert” sound effect. It’s a cute idea for a kid’s bedroom maybe, but not exactly ideal for somebody who regularly records YouTube videos.

Peak 23rd century technology

So the first order of business was to cut the motion sensors out of the circuit and replace them with a push button. [Fran] draws up a quick diagram to explain how these sensors work, and shows that they can easily be bypassed with a momentary switch since they normally bring the line high when triggered. She then converted the indicator light on the right side of the panel into a button to enable the alert sound effect, which is more accurate to how it worked in the show anyway.

The other issue, and perhaps the most egregious to Star Trek fans, is that the “Red Alert” indicator on the top of the panel didn’t actually flash like it did in the show. To design and build this panel and not put a few LEDs behind that piece of frosted plastic seems a bit like producing a Matchbox car and forgetting to make the wheels spin. With a couple of red LEDs and a bit of new wiring, the oversight was quickly rectified.

While it might not be perfect, at least ThinkGeek actually produced a functional product this time. It could have ended up like one of their April Fool’s “products” that never get put into production, forcing a desperate Trekkie to begrudgingly build his own version.

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An Arduino Sickbay Display Worthy Of The Enterprise

The various displays and interfaces in Star Trek, especially The Original Series, were intentionally designed to be obtuse and overly complex so they would appear futuristic to the audience. If you can figure out how Sulu was able to fly the Enterprise with an array of unlabeled buttons and rocker switches, we’d love to hear it. But one area of the ship where this abstract design aesthetic was backed off a bit was sickbay, as presumably they wanted the audience to be able to understand at a glance whether or not Kirk or Spock were going to pull through their latest brush with death (spoilers: they’re fine).

For his latest project, [XTronical] has recreated the classic displays from Dr McCoy’s sickbay with an Arduino Nano and a 2.8 inch LCD display. It even has a speaker and MP3 player module to recreate the “heartbeat” sound from the original show. The whole thing looks and sounds phenomenal, and would be a perfect desk toy for the classic Trek aficionado. But this isn’t just a toy, it’s a fully functional medical scanner.

Of course, this little gadget can’t tell you if you’ve come down with a nasty case of Rigellian fever, but it can read your vitals using a MAX30100 pulse oximeter module and DS18B20 thermometer. In fact, it actually has two DS18B20 sensors: one to measure ambient temperature, the other to measure skin temperature. With those two figures, [XTronical] says it can calculate your core body temperature. The only thing that’s made up is the blinking “Respiration” indicator, that one’s just an estimate.

So where do we go from here? This project is presented as merely the first step in building a complete prop, perhaps in the form of a medical tricorder. We’ve seen some phenomenal TOS tricorder builds over the years, and some have even used the Raspberry Pi to shoehorn a bit of functionality into them. [XTronical] says he’s working on getting the source code and a step-by-step build guide put together, so keep an eye out for that in the near future.

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Arduino Heart Rate Monitor Has Star Trek Chic

Building a real-life version of the Star Trek tricorder has been the goal of engineers and hackers alike since the first time Dr McCoy complained about being asked to work outside of his job description. But while modern technology has delivered gadgets remarkably similar in function, we’ve still got a long way to go before we replicate 24th century Starfleet design aesthetic. Luckily there’s a whole world of dedicated hackers out there who are willing to take on the challenge.

[Taste The Code] is one such hacker. He wanted to build himself a practical gadget that looked like it would be at home on Picard’s Enterprise, so he gathered up the components to build a hand-held heart rate monitor and went in search for a suitable enclosure. The electronics were simple enough to put together thanks to the high availability and modularity we enjoy in a post-Arduino world, but as you might expect it’s somewhat more difficult to put it into a package that looks suitably sci-fi while remaining functional.

Internally his heart rate monitor is using an Arduino Pro Mini, a small OLED screen, and a turn-key pulse sensor which was originally conceived as a Kickstarter in 2011 by “World Famous Electronics”. Wiring is very simple: the display is connected to the Arduino via I2C, and the pulse sensor hooks up to a free analog pin. Everything is powered by 3 AA batteries delivering 4.5 V, so he didn’t even need a voltage regulator or the extra components required for a rechargeable battery pack.

Once everything was confirmed working on a breadboard, [Taste The Code] started the process of converting a handheld gyroscopic toy into the new home of his heart rate monitor. He kept the battery compartment in the bottom, but everything else was stripped out to make room. One hole was made on the pistol grip case so that a finger tip could rest on the pulse sensor, and another made on the side for the OLED screen. This lets the user hold the device in a natural way while getting a reading. He mentions the sensor can be a bid fiddly, but overall it gives accurate enough readings for his purposes.

If you’re more interested in the practical aspects of a real-life Star Trek tricorder we’ve seen several projects along those lines over the years, including a few that were entered into the Hackaday Prize.

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A Star-Trek-Inspired Robot With Raspberry Pi And AI

When [314Reactor] got a robot car kit, he knew he wanted to add some extra things to it. At about the same time he was watching a Star Trek episode that featured exocomps — robots that worked in dangerous areas. He decided to use those fictional devices to inspire his modifications to the car kit. Granted, the fictional robots were intelligent and had a replicator. So you know he won’t make an actual working replica. But then again, the ones on the TV show didn’t have all that either.

A Raspberry Pi runs Tensorflow using the standard camera.  This lets it identify objects of interest (assuming it gets them right) and sends the image back to the operator along with some identifying information. The kit already had an Arduino onboard and the new robot talks to it via a serial port. You can see a video about the project, below.

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Kind Of The Opposite Of A Lightsaber

Lightsabers are an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. Did you ever consider that cutting people’s hands off with a laser sword means automatically cauterized wounds and that lack of blood results in a gentler rating from the Motion Picture Association? Movie guidelines aside, a cauterizing pen is found in some first aid kits, but at their core, they are a power source and a heating filament. Given the state of medical technology, this is due for an upgrade, and folks at Arizona State University are hitting all the marks with a combination of near-infrared lasers, gold particles, and protein matrix from silk.

Cauterizing relies on intense heat, or chemicals, to burn flesh but this process uses less power by aiming the near-IR laser at only the selected areas, and since near-IR can penetrate soft-tissue it goes deep without extra heating. The laser heats the gold, and that activates the silk proteins. Early results are positive but lots of testing remains and it still will not belong in the average first aid kit for a while, lasers and all, but surgery for beloved pets and tolerable humans could have recovery time reduced with this advance.

If this doesn’t sate your need for magical space knight weaponry, we have options aplenty.

Via IEEE Spectrum. Image: starwars.com

Get Your Name On The Hottest List In The Solar System

How often does NASA name a spacecraft after a living person? How often do you get to launch your name into a star? How often does NASA send probes to explore the sun? If your answer to all these questions is NEVER, then you win the honor of adding your name to an SD card bound for the center of our solar system. We’re already on the list with [William Shatner] so we’ll see you there. Submissions for the hot list aboard the Parker Solar Probe close on April 27th, 2018 and it launches in May.

The Parker Solar probe honors living astrophysicist [Eugene Parker] who theorized a great deal about how the sun, and other stars, emit energy. His work has rightly earned him the honor of seeing his name on a sun-bound probe. We even owe the term, “solar wind” to [Parker].

To draw more attention, you can have a few bits aboard this probe dedicated to you or someone you care about by adding your name to their list. Or you can send the name of your greatest enemy into the hottest furnace for millions of miles. Your call.

Even though our sun is the most prominent heavenly body, NASA hasn’t sent a probe to explore it before. They are good about sharing their models and they really know how to write standards for workmanship.

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The Era Of Orville Props Has Officially Begun

Over a decade after the last Star Trek show warped off of television, we finally have a new series in the form of Star Trek: Discovery. But much to the chagrin of many old school Trek fans, Discovery has gone all in on the gritty and hyper-serialized storytelling that’s taken over TV since Starfleet last patrolled the airwaves. But for those who are looking for somewhat more lighthearted space adventures, Seth MacFarlane (of Family Guy fame) has created a show which is essentially a love-letter to Star Trek: The Next Generation called The Orville. Some have gone as far as to claim that The Orville is the true continuation of the Trek legacy, though such discussion sounds awfully close to a Holy War to us so we’ll steer clear.

Unfortunately for The Orville fans, the series doesn’t have nearly the commercial draw of Trek. Accordingly, the market for things like replica uniforms and props from the show is still in its infancy, meaning fans of the show have to go the DIY route. [JohnSmallBerries] is one such fan, and his 3D printed “Comscanner” from The Orville is a shot across the bow to the well established Trek prop-making scene.

Without so much as an official toy version of the device, [John] was forced to do his initial 3D rendering based completely on screenshots from the show. Even the scale of the device had to be guessed, as it’s usually only seen being held in a crew member’s hand. In the end he reasoned it’s probably supposed to be about the size of a large smartphone.

Not content with just a static prop, [John] managed to integrate not only the spring-assisted retractable display of the scanner from the show, but also some LED backlit panels complete with a screen-accurate user interface. Judging by the internal shots of the scanner, it looks like there’s still plenty of room inside to add some more advanced electronics. The next evolution of this prop will surely be to add in a microcontroller and potentially even a real screen to add some more elaborate effects and (relatively) practical functions.

We’ve seen plenty of impressive builds of Star Trek gadgets, arguably bringing the devices much closer to reality than the original show runners ever did. It will be interesting to see if The Orville inspires a new generation of engineers to bring their favorite fictional pieces of kit into the real world.