The Star Trek tricorder has become a reality, thanks to the hobby project of a cognitive science researcher. Dr. Peter Jansen has developed a handheld mobile computing device that has a number of sophisticated embedded sensors. The device is modeled after the distinctive design of the 24th-century tricorder.
He began working on the project in 2007 and aims to make it easy for others to reproduce his designs. He has made complete schematics for two of his four models available under the terms of the TAPR non-commercial hardware license. The underlying source code of the device’s software environment is available under the GPL. In a blog post about the project, Jansen explained that he hopes his project will encourage scientific curiosity and help people better understand the world.
“I think for me, it’s really about curiosity. And helping to find ways to see and intuitively visualize the world around us, to help share that curiosity, and get folks excited about science,” he wrote.
The Mark 2 tricorder, which is the more sophisticated of the two devices, runs Debian Linux on an ARM920T-based Amtel microcontroller. It is designed in a clamshell form factor, with a pair of OLED resistive touchscreen panels on the inside.
Jansen’s Mark 2 tricorder is powered by a lithium polymer battery (more energy efficient than the Mark 2 EMH, which is powered by Andy Dick) that fits inside the device’s housing. The built-in sensors can measure temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, magnetic fields, color, ambient light level, GPS location, and distance to a surface.
Unlike the Star Trek device that it is modeled after, Jansen’s tricorder can’t detect spatial anomalies or identify alien biology. If you are hoping to locate Klingon spies, you will still need to carry around a tribble. The device packs quite a bit of functionality, however, considering the limitations of 21st century technology. I can’t help but wonder if Jansen is really a time traveler, borrowing Berlinghoff Rasmussen’s business model.
Jansen isn’t the first to attempt building a genuine Star Trek tricorder. A company called Vital Technologies created an elaborate sensor device back in 1996 that it marketed as a tricorder. Jansen’s device more closely resembles the actual Star Trek design. There are also a number of toys and replicas that have been sold over the years without the sensor capabilities.