A DIY spectrometer for your phone: Make it so

Star Trek was way ahead of its time, with so many technologies we take for granted today getting a public airing in the hands of Captain Kirk and Mr Spock. The item I’ve always dreamed of is a real tricorder. I want my iPhone to be able to analyse its environment and report back to me what it’s seeing. And now a new project shows not only how that can be done, but how it can be done with a few bits and pieces you might find sitting about your house.

The Public Lab DIY Spectrometer Kit is on Kickstarter, but it has a life of its own without funding. The Public Laboratory website shows how to make a desktop spectrometer using some black paper, a DVD-R, and a webcam; oh, and some duct tape, of course. It is open source and apparently remarkably effective.

The clever people behind this have also come up with a little spectrometer you could attach to the back of your phone. Now this is seriously an amazing idea. For only a few dollars you could analyse an unknown spill, identify a plant species or a mineral sample. The possibilities in a school or club environment are enormous and it wont take long until technology like this gets fully and equally cheaply commercialised for the rest of us.

OK we’re still not quite up to tricorder level where you can just point your phone at anything and have it identified: But the future is now tantalizingly close. The technology and the will are now converging. For example, earlier this year a $10 million Tricorder Prize was announced for a device that can diagnose patients. The incentive is there to make our ubiquitous handheld devices even more useful. We just need to make it so.

For full details on the spectrometer watch the video and visit the Public Labs website.

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