I have been working with my good buddies Elvis (@Eric_Ardros), Ethan (@EWilliams), ecl, and @dzircher on a build of a tricorder that Rick Sternbach designed for Voyager but that, for various (to me) unknown reasons never got built. It was an incredibly creative and interesting design, so it’s a shame that it never was fabricated—an aesthetic travesty we hope here to redress! And to bring things full circle, I have promised that I’ll make one and send it to Rick so he can have the satisfaction of seeing his vision finally realized.
Here is an original hand-drawn concept sketch I bought directly from Rick on eBay in the early 2000s
Here is a color scan of another sketch that Rick sent me by email, (which I hope he won’t mind my sharing here—and which I’ll be happy to remove on request.)
(Rick periodically sells books on eBay containing these and other excellent sketches, by the way. I highly recommend supporting him for all the amazing contributions he made to something we all love so much. )
Rather than building this for VOY, the studio ended up opting to recycle late-season TNG trics for the first season of VOY and then inexplicably and abruptly switched to First Contact style Mark Xs early in VOY season 2, despite the fact that Voyager was stuck in the Delta Quadrant, totally cut off from Starfleet Command and R&D. This used to bother me greatly, until I read this excellent little piece of sophistry on Memory Alpha:
Coinciding with a similar redesign of the phasers, this new tricorder inexplicably found its way into the hands of the Voyager crew, despite the fact that it was stranded in the Delta Quadrant. It is possible that Starfleet programmed replicators to replace older tricorders throughout Starfleet with preprogrammed and predesigned upgrades through an automated upgrade process, or it could be that Voyager and the Equinox were test vessels for the new tricorders and phasers in 2371, and were not distributed fleet-wide until 2372.
Phew! My world is whole again.
At any rate, Elvis and I have been agonizing for months and months, trying to figure out how to build this thing out of styrene. It is unlike any other TNG-era tricorder in its intricacy, which makes it really hard to model in styrene, especially by hand, which is how Elvis first tried making it. (And Elvis is the undisputed master, in my book, of turning drawings into styrene.) Here was an initial attempt, extremely admirable given that it was all done by hand.
(Hopefully @Eric_Ardros, you also don’t mind my sharing this photo?)
The trouble is that the original design for this tricorder is very slim and elegant, and it also contains all sorts of very fine details and through-holes for LEDs, etc. Elvis was lamenting this challenge a few months ago, so I offered to help him do some laser-cutting to give the through-holes and profile greater precision.
It started out by my drafting up a digital mock-up in Illustrator.
By specifying everything digitally, I discovered a number of challenges in getting things together that I hadn’t anticipated, but eventually, I ended up with this:
I cut the vector profile in two layers on the laser cutter in styrene (on an Epilog Helix)
I also made graphics and cut them on a vinyl cutter from the same vector sources (this is obviously just a low-quality test)
I was very pleased by these results, but the trouble has been turning those planar surfaces into the 3D profile of the tricorder, which turns out to be far more curvilinear and complicated than you’d guess, especially if we work from the color drawing.
The trouble came when I started to try to work out how to build the body with the following constraints
- Must be hollow for electronics
- Must accommodate through-holes for LEDs and other greeblies
- Since this is a collaborative project and those of us helping to build it each obviously want to build one, it has to be castable. This means each part must have a geometry that allows a casting to be removed from a compression mold (no major undercuts), which is the best way to cast thin-walled parts.
- Must allow for a detachable back door for electronics access.
- Must have a smoothly curved side that follows the curved contours of the tricorder faces as specified in the B&W drawing above
So I tried to model this all in sliced planar layers in Illustrator (of a 3D model I had only in my head) and then sand and bevel things to fit together.
I was making some progress, but it was messy and difficult. And the CAD modeling in 2D kept getting harder and harder as I move along. This proved so difficult to get right that I recently decided to explore another option, 3D modeling the body and then getting it printed in extremely high detail and/or finishing it with Smooth-On XTC-3D to remove the notoriously awful stepped printing lines that result from most 3D printing.
I’ll describe that decision and the modeling process more, along with my grand plans for the crazy greeblies (laser cut acrylic buttons, a UV reactive squishy gelpack, and much more!), in my next post.