Tricorders: The Next Generation
In the 23rd century, the time of Star Trek, tricorders arestandard operating equipment (aka props) for Starfleet personnel. These multifunctional handheld devices are used for scanning, data analysis anddata recording. Over the last 50 years, handheld technology like the tricorder has advanced at warp speed, providing users with fast,increasingly accurate data. The question now is how this data will be usedand for what purpose.
By Rebecca Johnson, Strategist
In Star Trek: The Original Series, which debuted September 8, 1966, tricorders came in threemain variants: standard, medical and engineering. The standard tricorder, shown in the photo to the right, is probably the most well-recognized tricorder, which was used to scout unfamiliar areas, make detailed examination of living things, and record and review technical data. The medical version was used by Dr. Leonard McCoy to diagnosis diseases and collect bodily information, and came with a detachable handheld body scanner. The third tricorder was usedby starship engineers, such as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, to aid them in their assessment of theship’s engine. As Star Trek moved into the 24th century and beyond, tricorders went through multiple designs and iterations, including, most recently in Star Trek: Nemesis, a flat version witha flip-open touchscreen interface. Sound somewhat familiar?
In 1996, the Vital Technologies Corporation developed and sold a portable tricorder-esque device that featured a thermometer, barometer, colorimeter, light meter, clock and timer;1
the company sold 10,000 of these devices before going out of business.
Nevertheless, the drive to develop tricorders has continued, with NASA, universities, research laboratories, and Silicon Valley startups throwing their weight behind various portable, scientific analyzers.
The yet-to-be-invented technology of the Star Trek series, movies and spin-offs challenged innovators to create not only specific devices like the tricorder, but also inspired them to think innovatively when designing new products. Today, much of the technology around us may have indeed been influenced by this drive and motivation to innovatively and creativelysolve problems.
- Portable, precise and passive medical devices. In the world of Star Trek, the medical tricorder made diagnosing and treating injured crew members in the field fast and accurate, and rendered the giant MRI and x-ray machines we usenow obsolete. Medical and health-related devices will not only continue to decrease in size as we move toward the 23rd century — they will also take on more diagnostic functions, collect more information without need for manual data entry, and provide real-time analysis. Imagine a pedometer that not only tracks your steps but your heart rate, pulse, cholesterol and blood sugar, while also providing proactive diet recommendations in response to that data. Or imagine a thermometer that not only takes your temperature, but reads your white blood cells to determine if you have a cold,the flu, a virus, an infection, etc.
- Augmented reality makes data meaningful. The data points collected by tricorders, whether they are environmental ormedical, will need to translate and relay information to users in a meaningful way. One way of doing this is to overlaythe collected data points over images of the actual subject matter. Doing this would create an augmented realitycontaining data that is otherwise invisible to the naked eye.
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