Anyone who has watched the science fiction television series Star Trek will remember the tricorder: A fictional device capable of scanning for anomalies in space and time, diagnosing irregularities in your health, and helping the crew of a starship find their way through obstacles on an alien homeworld.
The technology hasn't exactly gotten that far, but in 2007, graduate student Peter Jansen began working on something amazing: his concept of the real tricorder.
Those of us who have studied the evolution of technology over decades have observed a pattern of science fiction staples becoming real-life objects with the same functionality. And for some reason, Star Trek was especially predictive of those real life applications.
Take for instance, the Star Trek communicator, used on The Original Series, by bridge officers like Captain Kirk (William Shatner). There is no Star Trek fan in the universe who was not reminded of the Star Trek communicator when flip phones, like the original Motorola Razr, became popular around the world. Other inventions like sliding doors at supermarkets, touch screen and voice capable computers, and even theories on subspace phenomenon have become a reality, all the while being predated by science fiction years, and even decades before their appearance in our real world.
In 2007, Peter Jansen began his work on the tricorder. The goal was to provide people with a means to use a device to provide value-based learning. Indeed, several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Enterprise show pads being used to teach children a language. Interesting, then, that this project has become a reality.
Jansen claims on his website that his work on the tricorder project is related to his interest in 3D Printing: another future milestone that is underway. If you can visualize what the emergence of consumer 3D printing would mean for humankind, you might get the idea that you could replicate objects. And that is exactly what replicators on Star Trek did in the 1960's, and what early industrial versions of 3D printers aim to do today.
Peter Jansen's Mark Two Tricorder will tell you about the atmospheric conditions around you, contains global positioning satellite data, and is chalk-filled of sensors that will tell you about the electro-magnetic fields in your area. It contains 32MB of RAM and is powered by a Atmel AT91RM9200 micro-processor.
While some people may claim Peter Jansen is still living in a world of science fiction, his project is not. The current real-world applications for his project could be the beginning and springboard for devices that have seismology, medicine, and a large number of real scientific applications at their epicenter.
How far will the project go? It's quite possible that even Mr. Jansen does not have the answer to that question. While his version of the tricorder can't quite upload data to the nearest starship's computer core just yet, one may look at his device and conclude that mobile computing won't just be about checking your calendar, sending e-mails, and updating your Facebook status when you get bored. Thanks to people like Jansen, there is real hope that the continued development of this technology could one day end up saving lives.
the Tricorder project