A tricorder is a piece of fictional equipment* in Star Trek that’s only slightly less realistic than Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver. A handheld device with a screen, lots of blinking LEDs, and some unspecified set of sensors, a tricorder allows you and your away team to detect alien lifesigns and subspace anomalies and whatever else is necessary to move the plot forward.
Considering how often tricorders are relied on in Star Trek, we can infer that they’re immensely useful. Peter Jansen has been developing tricorders for the last seven years, and his latest model is tiny, open source, and absolutely packed with useful (and entirely functional) sensors.
Here’s the full accounting of the suite of sensors in the current prototype:
- Ambient Temperature and Humidity: Measurement Specialties HTU21D
- Ambient Pressure: Bosch Sensortec BMP180
- Multi-gas sensor: SGX-Sensortech MICS-6814
- 3-Axis Magnetometer: Honeywell HMC5883L
- Lightning sensor: AMS AS3935
- X-ray and Gamma Ray Detector: Radiation Watch Type 5
- Low-resolution thermal camera: Melexis MLX90620 16×4
- Home-built linear polarimeter: 2x TAOS TSL2561
- Colorimeter: TAOS TCS3472
- UV: Silicon Labs Si1145
- Spectrometer: Hamamatsu C12666MA micro-spectrometer, with NeoPixel light source
- Inertial Measurement Unit: Invensense MPU-9150 9-axis (3-axis accelerometer, gyro, and magnetometer)
- Microphone: Analog Devices ADMP401
The difference between the Arducorder Mini and the tricorders competing for Qualcomm’s Tricorder XPrize is sort of like the difference (in Star Trek) between a regular tricorder, and a medical tricorder. The Arducorder Mini is a pure sensing tool, and isn’t intended to perform any diagnostics. The winner of the Tricorder XPrize, on the other hand, will need to be able to diagnose diseases by itself.
Jansen is competing for a different sort of reward: a trip to space for himself, if he wins the Hackaday Prize. But really, we all win, because of the open-source nature of the Arducorder. All of the build details are available here.
*Gene Roddenberry, the creater of Star Trek, added a clause to his contract with Paramount specifying that if anyone actually made a functioning tricorder, they’d have automatically earned the right call it a tricorder if they wanted to.
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Antarctica (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan's work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR's Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.