A tricorder was a multifunction hand-held device useful for data sensing, analysis, and recording, with many specialized abilities which made it an asset to crews aboard starships and space stations as well as on away missions. (TOS: "The Naked Time") Tricorders were often useful for recording entries in personal or official logs.
"Mr. Tricorder" was a joke made by Data in 2371 during an away mission aboard the Amargosa observatory following the installation of his emotion chip. He used a tricorder like a hand puppet and talked to Geordi La Forge. (Star Trek Generations)
- Bajoran tricorder
- Cardassian tricorder
- Ferengi tricorder
- Jem'Hadar tricorder
- Klingon tricorder
- Romulan tricorder
- Starfleet tricorder
- Trill medical tricorder
- Vulcan tricorder
The original impetus for the introduction of the tricorder to Star Trek was outlined in a memo from Gene Roddenberry to Robert Justman, dated 14 April 1966, stating with regard to the role of the Captain's Yeoman: "It has been suggested that she carry as part of her regular equipment...some sort of neat, over-the-shoulder recorder-electronic camera via which she can take log entries from the Captain at any time, make electronic moving photos of things, places, etc...it seems like it could also be a potentially popular toy item for female-type children." (The Making of Star Trek, p.169)
"TRICORDER: A portable sensor-computer-recorder, about the size of a large rectangular handbag, carried by an over-the-shoulder strap. A remarkable miniaturized device, it can be used to analyze and keep records of almost any type of data on planet surfaces, plus sensing or identifying various objects. It can also give the age of an artifact, the composition of alien life, and so on. The tricorder can be carried by Uhura (as communications officer, she often maintains records of what is going on), by the female yeoman in a story, or by Mister Spock of course, as a portable scientific tool. It can also be identified as a 'medical tricorder' and carried by Doctor McCoy." (Star Trek: The Original Series 365, p. 026)
In the final draft script of TOS: "Miri", a tricorder was used by Spock to ascertain that McCoy wasn't dead. In the final version of that episode, however, no device is used by Spock upon determining that conclusion.
The tricorders in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock were designed by Bill George. (text commentary, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Special Edition) DVD special features)
The first "real-world" tricorder was developed by a Canadian company called Vital Technologies Corporation in 1996. The scanner was called the TR-107 Mark 1; Vital Technologies sold 10,000 of them before going out of business in 1997. The TR-107 could scan EM radiation, temperature, and barometric pressure. The TR-107 is properly referred to as a true "tricorder" due to a clause in Gene Roddenberry's contracts with Desilu/Paramount dating back to the time of The Original Series. The clause specified that if any company could find a way to make one of the fictional devices actually work, then they would have the right to use the name. (citation needed • edit)
Many research laboratories are developing, or have developed, portable scientific analyzers. For example, in February 2007, researchers from Purdue University publicly announced their portable (briefcase-sized) DESI-based mass spectrometer, the Mini-10, which could be used to analyze compounds in ambient conditions without prior sample preparation. This was also announced as a "real-life tricorder" in later press releases. Truly hand-held devices, based on lab-on-a-chip systems, are also in development. These are typically more specialized than the Star Trek equivalent; however, it is believed that biomarker analysis will allow the development of a general-purpose medical instrument in the near future. (citation needed • edit)
Sandia National Laboratories in the US is a major center for lab-on-a-chip research, and have developed many handheld instruments for biological or chemical analysis. In May 2008, researchers from Georgia Tech publicly announced their portable hand-held multi-spectral imaging device, which aids in the detection of the severity of an injury under the skin, including the presence of pressure ulcers, regardless of lighting conditions or skin pigmentation. The day after the announcement, technology websites including Inside Tech and The Future of Things began comparing this device to the Star Trek tricorder. (citation needed • edit)
In October 2009, researchers from NASA showed their prototype for a device that detects deadly gases in the air; it contains a chip the size of a postage stamp connected to an iPhone. (citation needed • edit)
In April 2017, a seven-member, self-funded team took first place in the international Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition. Their entry consists of several parts that are used with a tablet. It exceeds the design goal by being able to help a layperson walk through the process of diagnosing thirty-four medical conditions. The tricorder is called DxtER (pronounced Dexter) and the team is looking forward to evaluation and testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More information is here.