Take one part open-source code, two parts OLED display, mix in a generous helping of curiosity and serve with a side of extra-delicious geekiness. That’s your basic recipe for a real-life tricorder, as envisioned and modeled by Dr. Peter Jansen. The result is a handheld device with sensors for reading atmospheric, electromagnetic and spacial properties in the surrounding environment. Dr. Jansen’s tricorder won’t necessarily detect alien life-forms, but there’s plenty of room to expand on his open-source design. Your mileage may vary.
Dr. Jansen’s Tricorder Project is a self-professed labor of love. In his spare time, Jansen built his first tricorder, the Science Tricorder Mark 1, with a goal of bringing to life “phenomena that we can’t normally see.” These include things like the release of particles from a car’s exhaust pipe, or the process of photosynthesis in a single leaf from a neighbor’s tree. With measurements showing the presence of pollution or chlorophyll, Jansen believed the Mark 1 could tell a great deal about the world around him, and maybe get other people excited about environmental learning too.
The Mark 1 quickly led to the Mark 2, and as Jansen continues to innovate on his original concept, he hopes others will join his quest of discovery. Anyone can download Jansen’s open-source tricorder plans and build their own prototypes. Jansen himself is at work on Mark 4. He apparently wasn't happy with version three of his device and has moved on to the next model.
Tricorders, meanwhile, are a popular hobby these days. The X Prize Foundation launched a contest earlier this year asking innovators to design tricorders with health diagnostic capabilities. The winning team will get a $10 million prize.
You can imagine the implications of putting tricorders into daily use around the world. Beyond individual discovery, there is also the possibility of collecting mass data for analysis. Combine tricorders with web connectivity, and you have a new layer of information for mapping the world in real time. That’s boldly going where no man has gone before.