CES 2013: NODE – the Star Trek Tricorder for the 21st Century

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Growing up as a Star Trek fan, believe it or not, I never dreamed about owning a phaser (a blaster on the other hand...). Sure, they were cool with the ability to stun or literally erase someone from existence (don't flip that switch the wrong way in the heat of battle), but to me, the tricorder always held a special place in my heart. Maybe because it seemed more realistic in what it could do. Of course, this was long before the idea of even cell phones becoming the modern version of the Federation communicator (also so cool), but somehow I felt it was something practical. Whether Spock was using it to scan for life forms or analyze environmental data or Bones using it to determine the health or relative level of death that had befallen a random redshirt, it made me want something in my hands that could do the same in the here and now. Yes, the original looked like a slightly modified, leather-bound cassette tape deck with a shoulder strap (Mego actually created one from a cassette player back in 1976, believe it or not), but if I was bound for a distant planet to explore with my crew, I'd want to be carrying that (along with a phaser, because hey, you never know).

But the most intriguing part of the device for me was the removable wireless “science scanner” that looked like a little cylinder that was waved over a person or object to determine its health or composition or whatever. The idea that a little metal rod the size of a C battery could give us vital INSTANTANEOUS information without having to carve someone open or take it to a lab for examination over a series of weeks felt, to me, like the biggest breakthrough in sci-fi tv science. It felt like the future!

But its been made clear to me that such a device exists now. The NODE, invented by the surprisingly young Dr George Yu, might not be able to do everything that Spock’s tricorder could do in the 23rd century (yet), but it does a lot of pretty cool things, considering the primitive times we live in. Right now it’s more a scientific and environmental tricorder than it is medical, but with the open SDK that comes with the device upon purchase, upstart developers can work on building applications that could expand into a variety of areas, including the highly competitive medical field. Just link it to a mobile device app on a phone or a tablet via Bluetooth and you’ve got a tricorder much sexier than Spock ever had.

Sure, this isn’t the only sensor device that’s been developed over the years. Qualcomm is offering a $10 million dollar prize in 2015 to the company that can come up with a tricorder device that can gather medical data, such as blood pressure, respiration rate, and internal body temperature (NODE currently reads surface body temperature). But to say that this is a burgeoning technological field with huge implications is an understatement. And NODE has the possibility of leading the charge of being more than just a medical device. My hope is that one day such devices would become as common as communicators – I mean, cell phones – allowing us to analyze everything from a broken arm to exactly matching paint colors for when we paint the den to making sure the chicken is cooked all the way through without having to slice it open.

We got a private demo of what the NODE can do from the inventor himself at CES 2013 as you can see by watching the video below.

What would you want to do with a tricorder of your own? Is there something you’d like to see the NODE do? If you’re tech minded, you can grab one of your own right now at variabletech.com and start developing. Someone had to invent it… why not you? And while a tricorder wouldn’t treat illness or injury, only examine and diagnose, it’s the first step to getting away from the “Dark Ages” of medicine as Dr McCoy calls it in this humorous clip from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

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