Peter Jansen wants us, especially kids, to make little discoveries everywhere and at any time. He developed the tricorder to give people a tool for scientific learning and visualization.
The first tricorder consisted of eleven sensing modes broken into three categories - atmospheric, electromagnetic and spatial sensors. Temperature, humidity, pressure, gps location, point-to-point distance, inertial measurements and magnetic fields can all be measured and displayed to the user.
Jansen is a researcher from McMasters University and has been developing tricorders for the better part of the last decade. He has given a TED Talk about the sensor and has seen lots of coverage about his projects. His long term goal is to build an artificial intelligence unit like Star Trek's Data.
The device is on its fourth iteration. With each new design sensors are added, functionalities are streamlined and the visual design looks a little less like a weekend maker project and more like a futuristic scientist's tool. The brain of the tricorder runs on Linux and the idea is that the whole system is open source for anyone to understand and develop.
Distilled to its essence Peter says his project is about curiosity. Several times he mentions the utopian goal that kids will use their tricorders to turn a walk home from school into a nature walk, and that future generations will use their devices to learn about the science of the everyday world.
It's inspiring to envision a future where children and teens are engrossed in their handheld learning devices instead of their handheld gaming devices. The most effective use of this incredible technology might be an integration of these incredible sensors into current phones or tablets.