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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Building a Tricorder Prop Worthy of Mr Spock

We’ve all been there. You want to assemble a proper Star Trek: The Original Series landing party prop set, but the TOS tricorders you can find on the market are little more than overpriced toys. Imagine the embarrassment of beaming down to Cestus III with a plastic tricorder. The Metrons wouldn’t have even bothered with the trial by combat with such a sorry showing.

Unhappy with the state of Star Trek props, [Dean O] decided to take matters into his own hands. He purchased a TOS tricorder from Diamond Select Toys and set out to modify it into something a bit closer to Starfleet standards. Anything painted metallic silver on the toy was replaced with a machined aluminum duplicate, adding some much needed heft. He even spruced up the controls and display.

To start, [Dean] stripped the tricorder down, separating all of the silver plastic parts and finding aluminum stock that was close enough to the desired dimensions. This ended up being .125″ plate for the sides, and .500″ bars for the horizontal dividers. To make the side panels he placed the original plastic parts over the aluminum, marked the mounting holes with a punch, and used the belt sander to shape them.

[Dean] then put in a more screen accurate Moire disc, and went as far as to get real watch crowns for the buttons (just like the prop used in the show). In a particularly bold move, he even drilled out the center of watch crowns to install plastic light pipes for LED illumination.

Last year we saw a build that crammed a Raspberry Pi into the same Diamond Select tricorder toy to excellent effect. Now somebody just needs to combine both projects and they’ll have the slickest tricorder in the Alpha Quadrant.

PiCorder: Raspberry Pi Stands in for Stone Knives and Bearskins

In a classic episode of Star Trek, Spock attempts to get data from a tricorder while stuck in the 1930s using what he described as “stone knives and bearskins.” In reality, he used vacuum tubes, several large coils, and a Jacob’s ladder. Too bad they weren’t in the year 2017. Then Spock could have done like [Directive0] and used a Raspberry Pi instead. You can see the result in the video below.

The build starts with a Diamond Select Toys model tricorder. The Raspberry Pi, a battery, a TFT screen, and a Pi Sense Hat make up the bulk of the build.

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I’m A Tricorder, Not A Doctor, Jim!

Machine learning and automated technologies are poised to disrupt employment in many industries — looking at you autonomous vehicles — and medicine is not immune to this encroachment. The Qualcomm Tricorder competition run by the X-Prize foundation has just wrapped, naming [Final Frontier Medical Devices]’s DxtER the closest thing available to Star Trek’s illustrious medical tricorder which is an oft referenced benchmark for diagnostic automation.

The competition’s objective was for teams to develop a handheld, non-invasive device that could diagnose 12 diseases and an all-clear result in 24 hours or less without any assistance. [Dynamical Biomarkers Group] took second place prize worth $1 million, with [Final Frontier Medical devices] — a company run by two brothers and mostly financed by themselves and their siblings — snagging the top prize of $2.5 million. DxtER comes equipped with a suite of sensors to monitor your vitals and body chemistry, and is actually able to diagnose 34 conditions well in advance of the time limit by monitoring vital signs and comparing them to a wealth of medical databases and encyclopediae. The future, as they say, is now.

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Ask Hackaday: How Does This Air Particle Sensor Work?

The hardware coming out of [Dr. Peter Jansen]’s lab is the craziest stuff you can imagine. He’s built a CT scanner out of plywood, and an MRI machine out of many, many turns of enamel wire. Perhaps his best-known build is his Tricorder – a real, all-sensing device with permission from the estate of [Gene Roddenberry] to use the name. [Peter]’s tricorder was one of the finalists for the first Hackaday Prize, but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped working on it. Sensors are always getting better, and by sometime in the 23rd century, he’ll be able to fit a neutrino detector inside a tiny hand-held device.

One of the new sensors [Peter] is working with is the MAX30105 air particle sensor. The marketing materials for this chip say it’s designed for smoke detectors and fire alarms, but this is really one of the smallest dust and particle sensors on the market. If you want a handheld device that detects dust, this should be the chip you’re looking at.

Unfortunately, Maxim is being very, very tight-lipped about how this particle sensor works. There is a way to get access to raw particle counts and the underlying algorithms, and Maxim is more than willing to sell those algorithms through a third-party distributor. That’s simply not how we do things around here, so [Peter] is looking for someone with a fancy particle sensor to collect a few hours of data so he can build a driver for this chip.

Here’s what we know about the MAX30105 air particle sensor. There are three LEDs inside this chip (red, IR, and green), and an optical sensor underneath a piece of glass. The chip drives the LEDs, light reflects off smoke particles, and enters the optical sensor. From there, magic algorithms turn this into a number corresponding to a particle count. [Peter]’s hackaday.io log for this project has tons of data, math, and statistics on the data that comes out of this sensor. He’s also built a test rig to compare this sensor with other particle sensors (the DSM501A and Sharp sensors). The data from the Maxim sensor looks good, but it’s not good enough for a Tricorder. This is where you, o reader of Hackaday, come in.

[Peter] is looking for someone with access to a fancy particle sensor to collect a few hours worth of data with this Maxim sensor in a test rig. Once that’s done, a few statistical tests should be enough to verify the work done so far and build a driver for this sensor. Then, [Peter] will be able to play around with this sensor and hopefully make a very cheap but very accurate air particle sensor that should be hanging on the wall of your shop.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Medical Tricorder

We have padds, fusion power plants are less than 50 years away, and we’re working on impulse drives. We’re all working very hard to make the Star Trek galaxy a reality, but there’s one thing missing: medical tricorders. [M. Bindhammer] is working on such a device for his entry for the Hackaday Prize, and he’s doing this in a way that isn’t just a bunch of pulse oximeters and gas sensors. He’s putting intelligence in his medical tricorder to diagnose patients.

In addition to syringes, sensors, and electronics, a lot of [M. Bindhammer]’s work revolves around diagnosing illness according to symptoms. Despite how cool sensors and electronics are, the diagnostic capabilities of the Medical Tricorder is really the most interesting application of technology here. Back in the 60s and 70s, a lot of artificial intelligence work went into expert systems, and the medical applications of this very rudimentary form of AI. There’s a reason ER docs don’t use expert systems to diagnose illness; the computers were too good at it and MDs have egos. Dozens of studies have shown a well-designed expert system is more accurate at making a diagnosis than a doctor.

While the bulk of the diagnostic capabilities rely on math, stats, and other extraordinarily non-visual stuff, he’s also doing a lot of work on hardware. There’s a spectrophotometer and an impeccably well designed micro reaction chamber. This is hardcore stuff, and we can’t wait to see the finished product.

As an aside, see how [M. Bindhammer]’s project has a lot of neat LaTeX equations? You’re welcome.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

The Hackaday Prize: The Hacker Behind The First Tricorder

Smartphones are the most common expression of [Gene Roddneberry]’s dream of a small device packed with sensors, but so far, the suite of sensors in the latest and greatest smartphone are only used to tell Uber where to pick you up, or upload pics to an Instagram account. It’s not an ideal situation, but keep in mind the Federation of the 24th century was still transitioning to a post-scarcity economy; we still have about 400 years until angel investors, startups, and accelerators are rendered obsolete.

Until then, [Peter Jansen] has dedicated a few years of his life to making the Tricorder of the Star Trek universe a reality. It’s his entry for The Hackaday Prize, and made it to the finals selection, giving [Peter] a one in five chance of winning a trip to space.

[Peter]’s entry, the Open Source Science Tricorder or the Arducorder Mini, is loaded down with sensors. With the right software, it’s able to tell [Peter] the health of leaves, how good the shielding is on [Peter]’s CT scanner, push all the data to the web, and provide a way to sense just about anything happening in the environment. You can check out [Peter]’s video for The Hackaday Prize finals below, and an interview after that.

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