LOS ANGELES: Starships, warp speed, transporters, phasers. Think Star Trek technology is only the stuff of fiction? Think again.
Peter Jansen, a PhD graduate of the Cognitive Science Laboratory at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, has developed a scientific measurement device based on the tricorders used by Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr McCoy and other space adventurers on the classic TV series that has spawned numerous spin-offs in more than 45 years.
“Star Trek inspired me to be a scientist,” said Jansen, who has been formally working on his tricorder prototypes since 2007, but toying with the idea of making a functioning device since he was ‘a kid in high school’.
The 29-year-old Jansen’s school days spanned the late 1990s when Star Trek: Voyager was on the air. It featured his favourite tricorder, a model with screens on top and bottom. The first tricorder appeared on the original show’s initial episode in 1966, when Capt Kirk swaggered toward audiences with his phaser weapon holstered to his side but a tricorder in his hand. The hand-held devices for data sensing, analysis and recording, have been a part of Star Trek ever since.
But if Jansen, a self-confessed ‘addicted maker’ of things, is successful at developing, testing and bringing his instrument into the public, the tricorder may not be just the stuff of Star Trek prop rooms. It may be used for real.
Jansen said his tricorder can take atmospheric measurements, or ambient temperature, pressure or humidity.
It can take electromagnetic measurements to test magnetic fields, and it can make spatial measurements of distance, location, or motion.
Fascinating, as Spock might say.
Jansen thinks of his tricorder as a ‘general tool’ — a kind of ‘Swiss Army Knife’ — with practical uses in building inspection, for instance, where it might help taking temperature and humidity readings or be a distance sensor to measure rooms.
It resembles the device carried by countless ‘Away Team’ members in Star Trek — The Next Generation — his favourite of the Star Trek shows, he notes.
No independent group has yet verified his claims for the device which, he said, is one reason for placing his designs on a public website as an ‘open source’ that technology makers can utilise to test and tinker.