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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Who Will Win the Hackaday Prize? Judging Begins Tonight

It’s been a long road for each of the five finalists; but after tonight they can breathe easy. The last judging round of the 2014 Hackaday Prize begins at 11:50pm PDT.

Each finalist must finish documenting their project by that time as a cached version of each of the project pages will be sent off to our orbital judges. Joining the panel that judged the semifinal round is [Chris Anderson], CEO of 3D Robotics, founder of DIY Drones, former Editor-in-Chief of Wired, and technology visionary. These nine are charged with deciding who has built a project cool enough to go to space.

In case you’ve forgotten, the final five projects selected by our team of launch judges are:

  • ChipWhisperer, an embedded hardware security research device for hardware penetration testing.
  • Open Source Science Tricorder, a realization of science fiction technology made possible by today’s electronics hardware advances.
  • PortableSDR, is a compact Software Defined Radio module that was originally designed for Ham Radio operators.
  • ramanPi, a 3D printed Raman Spectrometer built around a Raspberry Pi.
  • SatNOGS, a global network of satellite ground stations.

The ultimate results of the judging will be revealed at The Hackaday Prize party we’re holding in Munich during Electronica 2014. We’re also holding an Embedded Hardware Workshop with Moog synths, robots, hacked routers, computer vision, and a name that’s official-sounding enough to convince your boss to give you the day off work. We hope to see you there!

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.