Raspberry Pi Makes A Practical Tricorder

What do you get when you add a thermal camera, a software-defined radio dongle, and a battery to a Raspberry Pi? If you are [saveitforparts] you make a tricorder for sniffing radio signals and viewing heat signatures. He admits, the videos (see below) aren’t exactly a “how-to” but it will still give you some ideas for your next build.

You can sense the frustration with some Linux configuration issues, but [saveitforparts] admits he isn’t a Linux or Raspberry Pi guru. Version 1 seemed to be a bit of a prototype, but version 2 is more polished. We still aren’t sure we’d see Spock carrying a case like that, but some 3D printing could spiff that right up.

Of course, a real tricorder is a McGuffin that does whatever the plot calls for. This one is a bit more practical, but it can monitor thermal and RF energy and could accommodate more sensors. This is a great example of a project that would have been very hard to do in the past but is much easier today. The availability of cheap computers and ready-made modules along with associated software open up many possibilities.

If you want to do your own Tricorder hacking you could take over a commercial model. Then again, there’s an official replica on its way that seems like it might have some similar features.

CBS Announces Functional Tricorder Replica For 2021

It’s taken 54 years, but soon, you’ll finally be able to buy a fully-functional version of the tricorder from Star Trek. Announced on the official website for the legendary sci-fi franchise, the replica will be built by The Wand Company, who’ve previously produced a number of high-quality official Star Trek props as well as replicas for Doctor Who and the Fallout game series.

Admittedly, we’re not sure what a “fully-functional tricorder” actually is, mainly because the various on-screen functions of the device were largely driven by whatever bind Kirk and Spock managed to find themselves in that week. But the announcement mentions the ability to scan radio frequencies, pull in dynamic data from environmental sensors, and record audio. The teaser video after the break doesn’t give us any more concrete information than the announcement, but it does seem to confirm that we’ll be viewing said data on the device’s iconic flip-up display.

Now as the regular Hackaday reader knows, fans have been building extremely impressive “functional” tricorders for some time now. Unlike the sleek 24th century versions seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the original tricorder prop was rather clunky and offers plenty of internal volume for modern goodies. Cramming a Raspberry Pi, LCD, and a bunch of sensors into an inert replica is a relatively approachable project. So it will be interesting to see how the official version stacks up to what’s already been done by intrepid hackers and makers.

The official tricorder won’t be available until summer of 2021, but you can sign up to be notified when it’s your turn to beam one up. While the $250 USD sticker price might keep the more casual Trekkers at bay, it’s actually a bit cheaper than we would have assumed given the amount of time and money we’ve seen fans put into their own builds.

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Mini Computer Brings Starfleet To Your Desk

It could be said that there are two types of people: those for whom the actor LeVar Burton is the host of Reading Rainbow, and those for whom he is Geordi LaForge, Chief Engineer of Star Trek TNG‘s Enterprise NCC1701-D. For those of us engineers who lie in the second camp, we can at least feel a little closer to the action thanks to a project from [Darian Johnson], a Star Trek TNG mini-computer which functions as a desktop information display.

Inside the 3D-printed case is an ESP32 version of the Adafruit Feather, talking to cloud services to pull in and aggregate the information on the TFT screen. It combines weather data, environmental sensor readings, his fitness tracker readings, and his schedule, with two useful applications. There’s a resistor colour code chart, and an LED series resistor calculator. He’s made a video showing it in operation which we’ve placed below the break, and in it, he’s captured the aesthetic of the LCARS interface perfectly. We can’t speak for a fictional future spacecraft officer, but we suspect that Geordi would be right at home with it.

We may not be able to bring you Geordi LaForge, but we can bring you a real Starfleet officer. She even shares something with LeVar Burton, in that she’s (much more) famous for something else.

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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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