Tricorder Project brings Star Trek to the classroom

March 30, 2012 // 12:13 p.m.

Tags: #arm #education #linux #peter-jansen #science #sensors #star-trek #tricorder #tricorder-project #university-of-arizona

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.
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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.

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