A tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device useful for data sensing, analysis, and recording data, with many specialized abilities which make it an asset to crews aboard starships and space stations as well as on away missions. (TOS: "The Naked Time")
- Bajoran tricorder
- Cardassian tricorder
- Ferengi tricorder
- Jem'Hadar tricorder
- Klingon tricorder
- Romulan tricorder
- Starfleet tricorder
- Vulcan tricorder
According to Stephen Whitfield in The Making of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry originally came up with the idea of the tricorder not only as a useful device but as "a potentially popular toy for female-type children".
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.
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.
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.
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.
A mobile medical imaging lab that operates using inexpensive mobile phones was demonstrated in 2009.
In the documentary Star Trek: Beyond The Final Frontier, Brannon Braga ironically states that although he didn't know what tricorders do, that "they were probably used a little too often."