Scanning with Mr. Spock’s Tricorder Now a Reality


Science has once again replicated a device first seen in fiction.

First there was the cell phone kind of looking and acting like the communicator used by Captain Kirk to speak to the bridge of the Enterprise. Then the iPad basically recreated the device held by Jean-Luc Picard a century later in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now the tricorder, that boxy device used by Spock to detect anomalies in matter, now has a real-world counterpart in a hyperspectral camera (HSC) developed by scientists at University of Tel Aviv in Israel. The HSC detects up to a thousand different colors of light which are invisible to the naked eye to immediately determine the amount and nature of contaminants, say, in a glass of water.

A sensor interprets sunlight bouncing off of different compounds and reads each compound as a slightly different color. “A combination of absorption or reflection of energy creates the color that the HSR sensor sees,” says Prof. Eyal Ben-Dor of TAU’s Department of Geography.

The inexpensive handheld HSC has a wildly wide range – from .4 inches to 500 miles – meaning that it can be used in a variety of ways. Relief workers can carry it into problem areas to spot danger, or the HSC could be mounted in a weather balloon to check for leaks in a natural gas pipeline, for instance.

Prof. Ben-Dor believes the device could be used to keep commercial areas, such as marinas and harbors, as clear of contaminants as possible given that most of those areas now are messes of gasoline and oil leaked from boats. “This toxic material sinks, and becomes concentrated on the sediment of the marina, which also contaminates nearby beaches,” he says.

The rectangular black box that houses the HSC has many applications for both the environment and scientific experimentation, but if I had one, I would just walk up to random people, make some beeping sounds, and say, “Scanning. Fascinating.” Then I would walk away, mysteriously.

Source: Tel Aviv University

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