Analyzing the possibilities: designing a Tricorder BoosterPack

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If you can dream it… you can build it!

 

The engineering profession and the Maker movement are both driven by the fundamental notion that if you can dream it, you can build it. Now more than ever, individuals and small teams are empowered to turn ideas into functional prototypes without the need for significant upfront capital investment.

 

Want a Start Trek Tricorder?
Want a Start Trek Tricorder?

 

The combination of affordable electronics design tools (e.g. Mouser’s MultiSIM Blue), open source software licensing, desktop manufacturing equipment – e.g. 3D printers and CNC machines –   and PCB manufacturing services (e.g. PCB Assembly Express) that cater to small volume productions are making the niche product design affordable and easier than ever before.

As an example, in a recent a blog we discussed the exciting opportunities available to build some pretty cool electronics projects thanks to the Texas Instruments Build-Your-Own-BoosterPack (BYOB) initiative. To demonstrate what is possible, we’ve leveraged their powerful MSP432F401 LaunchPad embedded development platform to design a functional prototype of an iconic piece of science fiction technology.

In the world of Star Trek, Captain Kirk and crew have access to an incredible assortment of 23rd century technology to help them on their missions. The Communicator, the Phaser, and of course, the Tricorder. For the uninitiated, the Tricorder is jack-of-all-trades device that allows a crew member to scan their surroundings to acquire information on just about every environmental variable possible. Want to know the chemical composition of that gelatinous goo you just stepped in? Scan it with a Tricorder.  Is the gaseous cloud that’s creeping toward the landing party dangerous? Scan it with a Tricorder.  Is that a human, or a Klingon behind that embankment? Scan them with a Tricorder.

While our knowledge of detecting alien physiology is scant, our ability to scan other environmental variables poses little difficulty for our 21st century tech. We’ve built a BoosterPack for the MSP432F401R that incorporates a suite of sensors to scan a variety of environmental variables. The sensors we’ve used include:

 

Tricorder
Tricorder

 

In addition to the sensor suite, we’ve included a microSD card reader, a few buttons and LEDs, and access LaunchPad stackable headers for additional usability and tinkering.

If we’ve piqued your interest in the possibilities of the Tricorder BoosterPack, you can head over to our open source hardware page­ to get the full technical details on the project. Feel free to take the concept and explore other possibilities of the TI BoosterPack ecosystem. If you build anything exciting be sure to share with us by putting a link to your project down below.

Live Long and  Make On!


Michael Parks, P.E. is the owner of Green Shoe Garage, a custom electronics design studio and technology consultancy located in Southern Maryland. He produces the S.T.E.A.M. Power Podcast to help raise public awareness of technical and scientific matters. Michael is also a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Marylan.

 

Michael Parks
Michael Parks