Our dream of bringing the tricorder to life started with the desire to make an accurate replica, true to the design of the original prop. Thorough research, meticulous 3D design, and carefully choosing materials and finishes goes a long way to making what we hope will be a great prop replica that fans will enjoy owning. However, alongside creating an authentically accurate look and feel, designing in some real-world functionality has always been a key element of the Wand Company philosophy, and in this respect, the tricorder is no different. In terms of the challenges this project presents, the tricorder has taken our skills to a new, higher level, and the result is an immersive experience for the user who wants a fully accurate prop and yet also wants to enjoy using it to access archived logs, and to scan, sense, and record a range of data down on the surface of their home planet.
In the mid-1960s, when Wah Chang was sketching out his response to Gene Roddenberry’s brief for a handbag-sized scientific instrument prop that Uhura could carry, the technology that would eventually make his concept real had only recently been a strip of germanium on a glass slide on a Texas Instruments prototype bench. Then there was the Coronet Windsor radio – a popular portable device of the day, with a simple, boxy, clean-lined look not unlike that of the tricorder, which donated its speaker grille for this higher use, and proudly boasted just two transistors to provide joy to its happy owners. Only 55 years later the world has moved on somewhat faster than The Original Series writers could have possibly imagined, and enormously powerful computers with billions of transistors, capable of a staggering array of tricorder-style functions, routinely warm the pockets of millions of ordinary people. For us and our compact team, the comparatively simple ARM Cortex-M7 processor package not only fits neatly inside the tricorder hood but, being relatively capable, fast, reliable, and low energy, also has a good fit with our project requirements.
As one might expect, this main processor is housed in the tricorder’s hood behind the 320 x 240 pixel resolution LCD which displays information and real-time data logged from tricorder’s on-board sensors (to be described in full in a later post). The screen also provides the user interface navigation that is necessary to access the tricorder’s many functions using just the three buttons available. Data logged by the sensors is stored in the tricorder’s memory alongside essential firmware and a number of other archive files and interesting pieces of pre-recorded information ready for an eager crew member to explore and enjoy at their leisure.
A MEMS microphone hidden behind the grille enables the user to record their own audio, which can be usefully stored as individual audio clips available to be replayed later via the in-built speaker.
As well as its environmental sensors, the tricorder also employs a number of internal state sensors to help it function correctly. Two single-action buttons and one five-way jog switch provide seven inputs. Much of the other internal state sensing and subsidiary functions are managed by a second, 8-bit microcontroller tucked next to the moiré’s stepper motor behind the upper of the two doors. The actions of opening the hood or closing the upper door are detected by the movement of magnets, hidden in the hood and door, using two Hall effect sensors, and let the tricorder know when to wake up and stop the moiré motor turning respectively. Data disc insertion is detected by an array of eight latching mechanical switches. At the right-hand end of the disc bank, an optical sensor detects which of the eight different data discs has been loaded into that position, which then determines which of the tricorder’s stored data can be accessed and which sensor functions are ready for use. Finally, the battery management circuit constantly monitors the tricorder’s power level and reports battery charge status.
The block diagram shows only the main functional blocks and, although they are not to scale or positioned accurately, they are placed to show their approximate physical relationship. Cables connect the three main functional zones, running outside the right-hand aluminium side plate, hidden under the side panel. From the hood, the cables are tracked through a large hole in the centre of the hood pivot bush, allowing the hood to rotate 180˚ from closed to fully open.
We know you are keen to find out more about how these functional blocks work and exactly what the features are. Over the coming weeks, we will begin to explore the various features and functions with you in more detail, but before that, we need to have a look at how the injection mould tooling that will be used to manufacture the tricorder is made. So until then…
Coming next time
Cutting tools – Making the things that will make the thing
Fans who register with us will be the first to read our news and the progress of this exciting Tricorder development and, later, where and when to purchase it. You can catch up with the story so far here on this blog, but if you haven’t already done so, why not register your interest in the Tricorder – you’ll then receive a personalised registration certificate and early access to these updates (before we publish them on our website).