Recantha’s only gone and made a tricorder.

I’ve been waiting for…ooh, just over a year, for someone to do this. Recantha, an old hand here in the comments and on the forums, has built a tricorder.

There surely can’t be anyone here without a passing familiarity with Star Trek, but just in case: the tricorder is a made-up thing used by the crew of the Enterprise to measure stuff, store data and scout ahead remotely when exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilisations, and all that jazz. Despite its made-up-ness, the tricorder remains a terribly desirable thing. I’ve always wanted to be able to tell whether my planet is M-class or not.

Recantha has bodged together his home-made tricorder using a Pi, some sensors (two for temperature, and one each for magnetism and distance), an LCD display, some switches, a light-resistant resistor, a thermistor and an Arduino Leonardo clone. We hope he keeps adding sensors to it, and maybe, later on, a camera board, until he runs out of space. How about a Geiger counter (this one already works with the Pi)?

Here’s a spot of video explaining what everything on the Picorder does:

(Best of all, the whole thing is cased in LEGO.)

And here’s some more video, showing the thing in action.

If you’re interested in reproducing or building on this project, Recantha’s blogged about it (he has an excellent website, all about Raspberry Pi), and has left a guide to the project over at Pideas, the new site for collecting Raspberry Pi projects. (Go and add something of your own!) Thanks very much for this, Recantha; our office costume parties will now have a dash of added realism. Jamesh has drawn the short straw and will be dressed as Nog.


Andrew Scheller avatar

I hate to nitpick, but shouldn’t a tricorder be battery-powered? ;-)

Michael Horne avatar

And it definitely will be when my USB battery pack arrives in the next couple of weeks :-)

Andrew Scheller avatar

Great! Then you need to hook up a mini speaker too so it can make authentic tricorder noises… :-)

Michael Horne avatar

lol There’s an idea :-)

alex avatar

What about those lipo cells Jim gave you, plus the 5V reg? Same as the ones I used to power Pi model A for 9.5 hours.

Michael Horne avatar

Yeah, I need to save up for the charger :-)

alex avatar

I’ve probably got one you could borrow somewhere in my garage. :)

tzj avatar

Not bad, i’ve not even started on the ‘medical’ tricorder idea to win the x-prize yet!

Andrew Scheller avatar

I wonder what illnesses you could diagnose by testing how magnetic somebody is?! ;-) :-D

Michael Horne avatar

What ya need to do is to get a Pi and then hook it up to one of these e-Health sensor packs from Cooking Hacks:

Andrew Scheller avatar
tzj avatar

That’s a nice kit, tho the price is a bit steep for the complete kit, building the sensors yourself would be better (plus you learn more in the process)… in fact a redesign of the shield for the pi would be good too (to make it more compact).

tzj avatar

An EMF sensor would be great to have (at least to test out the theory)…. and I’ve found one.
That’s saved a bit of money, just need a A/D chip. Maybe make it better by using 2 sensors to get a bit of depth perception.

Michael Horne avatar

That’s a great video and would fit in really well to the PiPodCorder using the Arduino. Thanks for finding it :-)

Taylor Michaels avatar

If you’re magnetic, you don’t have diseases, you have rust. BTW, you’re also an android.

Rob Pinder avatar

This doesn’t use a Pi but it’s interesting nevertheless.

qgazq avatar

Hum, wonder if I can fit my gertboard and associated bits into a case. Might have to get a light and mag sensor too. Like the idea of a speaker for noises.

xzanfr avatar

Pi + Lego = awesome!
However minus several points for using megablocks in place of proper Lego.

Michael Horne avatar

Darn, someone noticed. I keep forgetting it’s MB myself – it used to be a rather attractive fire engine :-)

xzanfr avatar

And now its a rather attractive tri-corder :D
Whatever the plastic brick manufacturer, its a great piece of work!

Ben Jacobs avatar

(Lifts one eyebrow)

But seriously, great job! I’d love to have one of these.

Peter avatar

Hey, and Mouser just sent out this MEMs IC tech center.

For all your shrunken SMT sensor goodness…

j0z0r avatar

Captain, it appears this planet is composed entirely of “wheedlie whee.”

Jim Manley avatar


Unfortunately, if you surveyed anywhere around most public places with the Picorder, all you would be able to say from your measurements is “There’s no intelligent life down here, Captain.” :(

A friend works for Inficon, which makes semiconductor chemical and multi-spectral (e.g., IR, UV, etc.) sensor devices, and I’ll see what they can do in the way of supplying samples of them to interested folks, since they usually only deal with corporate customers and government contractors involved in industrial process monitoring and control, anti-terrorism countermeasures, etc.

Michael Horne avatar

“Terrorists afraid of the Raspberry Pi”
Now that’s a headline I think we could all live with :-D

meltwater avatar

Would love to have a go with some sensors!

Nothing like handing over your kit to developers to discover new and innovative uses for your products, and I think does the company profile good (a product must be easier to sell when you have lots of examples showing you what it can do).

I promise I won’t make a TSA inspired scanning device…obviously medically useful in a tri-coder, but may be a “few” social issues to resolve. (and probably a couple of safety issues too I would imagine)

Michael Horne avatar

The nice thing about most sensors is that they’re quite cheap. This means that even if you can’t get some of them working (and I have a couple) it’s not the end of the world. Adafruit’s tutorial area is always a good place to start for some tutorials on basic sensors :-)

Jim Manley avatar

Price depends on yield and demand and, as you can probably imagine, some of the more esoteric sensors aren’t exactly what’s needed in every smartphone, much less simple to fabricate. AIUI, the holy grail is to shrink a mass spectrograph down to the size of a chip from that of a suitcase, which has previously been reduced from the size of a room over the past decade, or so.

HaggisHunter avatar

As I recall there were some great things being done with FAIMS a few years back – not quite mass spectrometry, but it’s a fairly sensitive analytical technique that lends itself to miniaturisation. I dread to think what it would cost to add to a Pi, though. According to a quick Google, it still seems to be in the “if you need to ask, you can’t afford it” range.

tzj avatar

I wouldn’t mind trying out a few myself, and being a tricorder its going to be a fair few.
Things like: EMF, radiation, bio-infomatics (there’s debian-med to help with it), spectrum analyser…. I could add more but I may be pushing my luck ;)

Parsingphase avatar

Yes, your planet is M-class*. Unless you’re not on the one we think ;)

*May not apply to all readers. The value of your planet may go down as well as up. Do not operate your planet while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism.

Jim Manley avatar

So that’s what they mean by a starship running on impulse power … and warp speed must mean you get even worse mileage when driving a sports utility starship at speeds that would bend environmentalists’ minds! That’s what the laws of thermodynamics would suggest, at least – talk about huge increases in entropy, to say nothing of what happens to all of that depleted dilithium once the joy-riding is over :( I’ll bet it would make Dreamliner batteries even more “flamboyant” ;)

Dethe Elza avatar

For the NYU “Feral Robotic Dogs” project, they hooked up inexpensive Volatile Organic Compounds sensors to cheap, used robot toys:

The key to a project like this is to log the data publicly so it can be mapped, and together we can crowdsource a new view of the environment we live in. (used to be Pachube) might be useful for that sort of thing.

Let a thousand tricorders bloom!

Matt avatar

This is so cool. Could you post the programming up anywhere please?? How did you get the LCD display to display ‘degrees’?

James P Jr Bettes avatar

I would love to have that Geiger counter board, but at $220 U.S. that’s a bit more than I can afford on my budget. I was on the NBC (nuclear biological chemical) team in my unit when I was in the military, so having that information would help ease my mind after the disaster in Japan.

Comments are closed