The “tricorder” may come sooner via Kickstarter than via the Ansari/Qualcomm tricorder X-prize competition, a variety of well-connected sensors have gotten funding recently. The Public Laboratory Spectrometer is the most recent (still open, until October, but already past 200% funding) project to do optical analysis of materials; what makes it interesting is that it’s taking advantage of the cellphone’s builtin camera - and that they’ve already got a community of crowd-sourced observations and presentation tools, and some very close-to-home measurements (baseline measurements of various coffees at Tosci’s :-) They’ve still got a way to go to connect spectra to actual materials, though they’ve come up with wonderfully clever tricks like using the Mercury lines from ubiquitous CFL bulbs as calibration points. (Backed)
I mentioned the IO Rodeo Educational Colorimeter Kit last week, but forgot to point out that even though they KickStarter is done, the kit is available in their online store along with a bunch of other Science! gear, like optical sensors for measuring the wing-beat rates of flies…
In an entirely different sensing range, we have the Safecast pocket open source radiation sensor - designed by Bunnie and more sensitive than most commonly available devices, with sample logging, USB download, and local display of Alpha/Beta/Gamma events. Designed in response to the Fukushima event, it could also provide interesting data in conjunction with the EPA “Where You Live” program - I happen to live a couple of miles from the Starmet Superfund Site and the more “eyes” watching such things, the better.
Mobile robot platforms using cellphones as the communication link (and local “brain”) are almost mundane at this point - adding simple but sophisticated sensors to them enables a lot of interesting environmental science, with locally developed data…
Bluetooth Voltmeter/data-logger, cheap enough to toss around, kickstarting…
“i-Voltmeter” is probably a terrible name for getting the attention of the kind of people who actually want cheap sensors for experimentation, i-Stuff is usually shiny and locked down, whereas this voltmeter is described as Open Source hardware, and really, it’s pretty straightforward to talk to bluetooth devices in general, most of them are “serial ports without wires” and that’s actually good enough!
On top of that, if you actually make it further down the web page, it becomes a lot clearer that “voltmeter” (or ohmmeter) is actually one of the more flexible sensors you can have, since it can usefully hook up to most environmental sensors (light, temperature, reed switch) with nothing more than alligator clips. It’s “good glue” for this kind of thing; it has a different “scaling shape” than things like the Twine box - the Twine can itself hook up to a bunch of sensors and then you talk to it wirelessly, here you can have the sensors themselves farther from a computer (and farther from each other, even outside if needed.)
Unfortunately it’s a high-starting-point ($65k) project, apparently because of bluetooth radio certification (compare, though, the Ubertooth One OSHW firmware-replaceable bluetooth security analysis tool only needed $16K to get off the ground, but I’m guessing it’s in enough of an “experimental” category that it didn’t need as much certification/overhead to get built.
Still, this kickstarter is open until 13 April 2012, so if you’re interested in More Cheap Sensors (one of the interesting bottlenecks in household robotics in particular :-) it’s worth a look.
update This kickstarter was canceled early, on 2012-04-05.