Star Trek has made an entire world imagine the unimaginable and dream of the unthinkable, from the magical teleports to the glorious tricorders that are able to diagnose any injury or illness or analyze the environment of ships, planets and other structures. Now, Trekkies may be just one step closer to their dream: the Star Trek tricorder has become a reality.

Peter Jansen, a Canadian scientist with a PhD in neural computation and cognitive modeling, had started working on a hobby project in 2007, developing a series of open source hardware tricoders. Modeled after the distinctive design of the 24th century tricorder, there are several versions of the device: some with sensors attached, for instance atmospheric, spatial, or electromagnetic, and others that are blank, leaving open spaces to mount your own sensors. With a number of sophisticated embedded sensors, Dr. Jansen's handheld mobile computing device can be used to make and record observations about the world around. The Mark IV is the latest version of the tricorder, and while it is still in development, it is intended to be mass produced at low cost.

Complete Schematics Available for Two Tricorder Models

Jansen began working on this project five years ago, and intends to facilitate the reproduction of the design. Under the terms of the TAPR non-commercial hardware license, the researcher has made complete schematics available for two of his four models. The software environment of the device has an underlying source code available under the GPL. With this project, Jansen aims to encourage scientific curiosity and help people better understand the world, as he explained in a blog post uncovered by Ars Technica.

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, wrote Jansen.

The Mark 2 Tricorder

The more sophisticated of the two tricorder models made available is the Mark 2 tricorder, which runs Debian Linux on an ARM920T-based Amtel microcontroller and is designed in a clam-shell form factor, with OLED resistive touchscreen panels. The Mark 2 is powered by a lithium polymer battery fitted inside the device. The built-in sensors can measure, atmospheric pressure, humidity, temperature, color, magnetic fields, ambient light level, GPS location, as well as distance to a surface. Trekkies might be disappointed, however, that Jansen's tricorder cannot identify alien biology or detect special anomalies.

(reported by Alexandra Burlacu, edited by Surojit Chatterjee)

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