Turn Your Android Phone into a Tricorder

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Let’s face it, many of us are fans of Star Trek. While it’s true that not all of us have a Starfleet uniform hanging in our closet, chances are if you’re reading pocketnow.com you’ve got today’s equivalent of a PADD (Personal Access Display Device, a hand-held computer interface). You may have called it a PDA years ago, but today most simply call it their mobile phone.

Think about it, whether you’re using Windows Mobile, Blackberry, iPhone, or Android, they are all network connected computers with an integrated screen capable of displaying data and accepting input. Many support input though text input (on-screen keyboard, or handwriting or voice recognition). Whether you like Trek or not, you are basically using a PADD in your every day life.

Another device from Star Trek is the Tricorder. The Tricorder is similar to a PADD, but it has the primary purpose of sensing and analysis of environmental conditions.

There have been Tricorder apps for the various platforms since the very first Palm and Newton PDAs, but all they ever did was display mock data using the LCARS (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System) interface and make sounds copied from TV.

Today, things are different. Today we actually have sensors built in to our hardware. We have GPS, aGPS, magnetometer, accelerometer, compass, ambient light sensor, electromagnetic frequency detectors (cellular, WiFi, and Bluetooth), audible sound sensors (microphones), and sometimes many other goodies too. In short, we have many of the sensors in our phones that might be found in a Tricorder.

It was just a matter of time before someone would take the old “mock Tricorder” apps and write an app that turns your Android into a real, functional Tricorder, complete with LCARS-style interface.

Tricorder by Ian Cameron Smith is now available in version 5.2 (for Android 1.6+ users) and version 3.1 (for Android 1.5 users). The breadth and accuracy of the data reported by the app depend on the hardware included within your Android.

Is it really useful, or is the app just a toy?

That, of course, depends on how you look at it. Trekkies around the globe will agree that no Android is complete without it (who am I to argue with that?). If you’ve wondered about whether or not some component of your phone is working, Tricorder provides a user-friendly interface to get at the data coming from those components and may help you diagnose a failed component.

What all does the app do?

Today’s Stardate is listed in the upper-left corner of the app with the current display mode across the top. Buttons along the left allow for access to the following:

GRAV: monitor the local gravitational field and acceleration

MAG: monitor the local magnetic field

ACO: acoustic analysis; waveform, frequency and sound level analysis of the ambient sound

GEO: display geographical information (enable GPS for full info)

EMS: scan the electromagnetic spectrum for radio signals — currently displays cellular and WiFi signals (you have to enable the WiFi to get the latter)

SOL: display current solar activity data — downloads current solar data in the background (may take a while) and displays it along with current images

Should You Install It?

Is it worth the cost? Since it’s free, I’d have to say it’s well worth it!

Is it worth the space? The APK is right around half-a-meg, so it’s well worth the little bit of space it occupies.

Download it, install it, play with it, and impress your Trekkie friends.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.