Peter Jansen, a postdoc in a lab for "Engineering Non-Traditional Sensors" at the University of Arizona, has developed (from scratch) a perfectly functional Star Trek-style Tricorder. It's packed with sensors, displays and touchpads, and it even folds up. Plus, this is just version one: version two is much more slick.
The Tricorder Mark 1 is, for all practical purposes, nearly identical to the device that we see in Star Trek, with the possible exception of being unable to reliably distinguish a Klingon from a Romulan. It's a self-contained, portable sensor system that can measure ambient temperature, humidity, air pressure, magnetic fields, surface temperatures, colors, ambient light level, ambient polarization, acceleration, direction, distance (ultrasonically), and of course it has a GPS receiver.
Here's how Peter describes the experience of testing out his Tricorder for the first time:
Upon holding the Tricorder near a power adapter plugged into the wall, you could see the oscillating magnetic fields on the magnetometer visualization. There they were, slowly bouncing back and forth, right in front of you More educational discoveries came quickly — from finding all the heat leaks from different building materials in my graduate student apartment in a century home, to how much humidity is exhaled in a breath And from that moment on, it seemed like much of the mystery of how they worked I now understood — I could think about what was going on inside them easier and more naturally, now that I had this visual grounding of the science going on inside. This is why I built the Tricorder.
Peter is also working on a Mark 2 version of the Tricorder, which (in addition to all of the capabilities of the Mark 1) runs Linux, includes modular sensors, and is absolutely beautiful:
Yes, those are twin OLED touchscreens. Drool.
I dunno about you, but I desperately want one of these. The good news is that it's all open source (hardware schematics, board layouts and firmware), so you can build one yourself. If you can wait a bit, though, Peter is currently working on yet another version of the tricorder that he says "may be an initial model that could be mass produced, and that folks could have in their hands."
Until you get a Tricorder in your hands, you'll have to make due with just watching it in action in the video below. And we'll definitely be keeping you up to date on this one.