Peter Jansen, a PhD graduate in cognitive science from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, has been working towards an inexpensive, fully-functional device modeled after the 'tricorder' devices from the Star Trek TV series.
Jansen envisions a world where children and adults alike carry around tricorders to tell them about the surrounding world. His prototype models measure temperature, humidity, magnetic fields, atmospheric pressure, ambient light levels, distances, and contain a colorimeter, GPS, accelerometer, and gyroscope. Jansen explains his vision in a YouTube video he posted this week:
I hate saying so, but I think perhaps these bulky gadgets may be already antiquated. The smartphones in our pockets are already packed with sensors and might soon have some of the same sensors that are in Jansen's tricorders. Luckily, selling tricorders is not what the project is about for Jansen. From his website:
"I very much believe in the value of project-based learning to supplement traditional approaches to teaching. Having the flexibility to let a project adapt to your interests as they develop also allows one to gather both breadth and depth — and this was and continues to be the case for the Tricorder project.
"There are some easy examples that come to mind. The Tricorder project has allowed me to explore circuit board design, fabrication, surface mount soldering, large scale project planning — all things that supplement a traditional education in computer science or electrical engineering with open resources for making physical prototypes like Sparkfun or Make."
Jansen and his father even made their own 3D printer while experimenting with case design. Even though it didn't help with tricorder cases, the printer sparked other projects. For Jansen, that's enough and I salute his idealism. I imagine any functional tricorders will be in the form of apps similar to this one:
Granted, Jansen wants a device that is actually useful in the sense that it's packed with sensors and is more than a toy. However, with near-field communications and 4G speeds becoming the norm, who says the sensors have to be in the actual device itself? In fact, I'm begining to think human technology might just skip past tricorders before they are ever really needed. What we should really work on are Dr. McCoy's medical scanners.