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Tricorder Project brings Star Trek to the classroom

Tricorder Project brings Star Trek to the classroom

Peter Jansen's Tricorder Project aims to bring a little Star Trek into science education, and already has a second-generation prototype device.

A scientist has revealed an impressive open-source project to produce an educational version of the Star Trek Tricorder.

Unlike Qualcomm's competition earlier this year, in which it offered $10 million for the first working Tricorder-like health-monitoring device, the Tricorder Project is an open-source initiative designed with education in mind.

The brainchild of Peter Jansen, a researcher at the University of Arizona, the aim is to create a hand-held gizmo in a Tricorder-like form factor which allows the user to interface with sensors and run multiple different visualisations.

The Tricorder Project has another difference from Qualcomm's contest, too: it already exists as a second-generation real-world prototype. Based around an ARM processor running at 180MHz, 32MB of RAM, a build of Debian Linux and featuring dual OLED 320x240 displays in a clamshell casing, the Science Tricorder Mark 2 is an impressive device and comes with a range of prototype sensor boards capable of detecting temperature, humidity, magnetic fields, colour, pressure, ambient light, location, distance, and movement.

'One of the most beautiful aspects of science is that while there is so much we can see and smell and feel around us, there's an inconceivably large universe around us full of things we can't directly observe,' Jansen writes of the project. 'The Tricorder project aims to develop handheld devices that can sense a diverse array of phenomena that we can't normally see, and intuitively visualise them so we might see temperature or magnetism or pressure as naturally as we see colour.

'The Tricorder project emphasises accessibility. The devices we build are meant to be as inexpensive as possible, so folks might have access to them without having to worry about the cost, or their difficulty of use. My hope is that someday every household — and every child who wants one — might have access to a small device that can easily be kept close in a pocket or bag, and quickly pulled out when curiosity strikes. By turning a walk home through the park into a nature walk, and Dad's spring time home repairs into a lesson about heat flow, it's my hope that everyday experiences will become opportunities to learn and develop an intuitive understanding and deep fluency with the science of our everyday world.
'

While Jansen has been working on the Tricorder Project for years, it is only recently that his efforts have been receiving well-earned publicity. Thanks to the open nature of the project, in which the schematics and source code are provided under an open-source non-commercial licence, it's likely that it will be making some impressive leaps in functionality in the very near future as increasing numbers of engineers join forces with Jansen on bringing a little Star Trek into the classroom.

Full details of the project are available on the official website, including a video of the device in action.

15 Comments

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Jack_Pepsi 30th March 2012, 12:23 Quote
Good on 'im! Hope he gets the $10 million - he deserves it.
Gareth Halfacree 30th March 2012, 12:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack_Pepsi
Good on 'im! Hope he gets the $10 million - he deserves it.

Sadly, as it stands, the Tricorder Project isn't eligible for the Tricorder X-PRIZE. Qualcomm's aim is to develop a health-monitoring device, capable of detecting certain illnesses - and while the contactless thermometer and colorimeter on the Science Tricorder *might* work for those tasks, it's hardly what Qualcomm had in mind.

Still cool, tho'.
webchimp 30th March 2012, 13:13 Quote
I've already built a working tricorder, but it only works on people wearing red shirts.

"He's dead Jim!" :P
Waynio 30th March 2012, 14:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Still cool, tho'.

It is that.
Bazz 30th March 2012, 14:55 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by webchimp
I've already built a working tricorder, but it only works on people wearing red shirts.

"He's dead Jim!" :P

LOL
noizdaemon666 30th March 2012, 14:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by webchimp
"He's dead Jim!" :P

Damn it Jim....I'm just a Doctor! lol

On topic, it seems a good little device. If only he could make it scan people :(
Stelph 30th March 2012, 15:10 Quote
Hmm que a lawsuit from Apple on the very iOS-esque keyboard. Hopefully not since this is a very cool project but Apple seem to be in the habit of sueing everyone and his dog atm
Jack_Pepsi 30th March 2012, 15:24 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Sadly, as it stands, the Tricorder Project isn't eligible for the Tricorder X-PRIZE. Qualcomm's aim is to develop a health-monitoring device, capable of detecting certain illnesses - and while the contactless thermometer and colorimeter on the Science Tricorder *might* work for those tasks, it's hardly what Qualcomm had in mind.

Still cool, tho'.

>.<

Dang! My skim-reading skills led me down the wrong path. Re-read the article on my lunch. Shame, but still, he's a champion.
dunx 30th March 2012, 15:45 Quote
Very cool project, in my limited universe I only need a multimeter to survive....

dunx
PingCrosby 30th March 2012, 17:33 Quote
I once got picked up by the Klingons
ZortB 31st March 2012, 00:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by PingCrosby
I once got picked up by the Klingons

Was it painful :-)
Dr Dark 1st April 2012, 11:15 Quote
I like it..... its SHINY!
Dr Dark 1st April 2012, 11:16 Quote
Just shows you though, how real world items are affected by "fiction" - ten or 15 years ago if we'd have said people would be able to interact with an electronic notepad like device, they'd have thought us nuts.... now, hello i-pad lol
Tribble 1st April 2012, 22:21 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by webchimp
I've already built a working tricorder, but it only works on people wearing red shirts.

"He's dead Jim!" :P

that made me think of this r0yXqU-w9U0
BLC 2nd April 2012, 12:09 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr Dark
Just shows you though, how real world items are affected by "fiction" - ten or 15 years ago if we'd have said people would be able to interact with an electronic notepad like device, they'd have thought us nuts.... now, hello i-pad lol

Not really. The first proper "tablet" computer was actually released around 10 years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_tablet_computers. The whole idea of a "tablet" computer actually goes back much further than that, but it's only in the last 5 years or so that the technology has reached a point where we can produce some really cool stuff. Early designs (that is, those from 10 years ago or so) were still quite cumbersome/weighty and had really poor battery life. Now we have much faster mobile processors which consume less and less power, and we have significantly moved on in battery technology.

As ever, Apple didn't really innovate: they took an existing product/idea, slapped their sheen/brand on it and claimed a revolution ;) ;)

Back OT though... It's really interesting how science fiction shapes the direction of actual science and technology. A very iPad-like device was first seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and now we have devices that do exactly what was shown in the film and more. We don't have spaceships or giant alien monoliths yet, but that's not the point. The tricorder is another perfect example.

To be honest, I hadn't actually realised that the Tricorder Project prototype was so functional - I'm going to have to go read up on this...
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