Playmates Tricorder MkVII ver 02

This is one of my longest project to day and I think I started this in the early 2000’s if I can remember correctly. At that time, I did have a Playmates Tricorder and also, ordered the earliest version of the electronics from gmprops. However, while helping a friend out in promoting their business, it went missing when it was being displayed. Although I was compensated with a 2009 Tricorder years later, I was still devastatingly heartbroken over it.

For the next decade or so, my second Tricorder was an ON and OFF project, trying to incorporate an LCD screen and sound, both which I had no experience in. There were some setbacks as well, from revised software which affected the printer output to dead hard disks and to, well, the depressing sadness which stopped me from a lot of projects and Life. Sometimes, just killing myself would be so much easier and less painful.

Anyway, years later, here were are, another unfinished project and me picking up the pieces all over again, overthinking and navigating under the shadow of making a much better Tricorder.

Playmates Tricorder 001 Just how many Playmates Tricorders did I have?

I know I had one, which was fitted with gmprops’s electronics in 2004 and subsequently got lost. Then I won one in the auction and now, today, I found this one, a semi-build first attempt to create my own electronics to replace the one I lost. I know I have one Medical version, a present from my Brother and heck, this is a wonderful realisation of a nightmare!

Anyway, I am going to really make one this time and I just hope, it can be done soon. But of course, the best is still from gmprops and mine would pale in comparison. No, I don’t think I want to sell the electronics since these toys are rare and not many people are brave or knowledgeable enough to convert one.
Playmates Tricorder 002 Having fun with Inkscape

Just feeling very tired after today’s and so, I am not going to do anything ‘heavy’ tonight. Fired up the ol’ Inkscape and completed the labels for the Playmates Star Trek MkVII Tricorder. Going to get them printed out tomorrow from a laser printer and see if my measurements are correct.

Then, I need to find a shop that does stickers for them and I think it has to be online. Anyone knows a good one that does not have MOQs (Minimum Order Quantity, as in hundreds)?
Playmates Tricorder 003 Testing the Label

Only have time for a quick one, so here it is. Just got the printout and did a rough cut on it and to be honest, I am quite pleased with it. Accurate or not, I am not sure since I just looked at a few reference pictures on the Internet and this, to me, looks good enough. Its still not 100% done yet as you can see, the upper details are missing and so are the square elbows and lines.

Next, the circuit board. I already have the concept drawn out and this is just a minor upgrade to my 2001 idea. When the sound chip’s programmer is in, it will more or less cement my design idea.
Playmates Tricorder 004 The almost done layout…

OK, I have more or less corrected the fonts for the layout and after checking it, it was as close as I can get. Referring back to the original props, the graphics are not exactly aligned perfectly. Since this is a toy and for my own use, I’ll just do what I think is correct and accept a lot of compromises. There is still one more area to go, which is the front sensor area. I have also did the ‘Tr-580’ label in two versions; one to follow the Playmates’s original indent area and the other is to ‘follow’ the original prop’s layout which shows it to be much wider.

To get this out, the layout will have to be done in four layers, each in its own media:
1. Paper sticker (or vinyl if I can) for the actual Tricorder layout.
2. A positive film (as a light masking) between the Tricorder’s surface and the actual sticker to block/minimise light bleeding.
3. Black vinyl for the front sensor and also, the hinge area.
4. A backlit sheet for the Tricorder viewer screen.

And if all else fails, I’ll just buy a cheap office A4 sticker paper and use the house’s inkjet printer…

2022 Update: The House’ inkjet failed and we have gone through three such printers, mainly for the Kid’s schoolwork. The current is a mono laser.
Playmates Tricorder 005 The Labels are done!

OK, done with some finishing touches last night. I think the labels are more or less done. Now, I just have to get someone to do some laser cutting, colour printing and well, vinyl sticker cutting. I have just talked to some vendor yesterday and he will see what kind of file format they can take but I am very certain the .ai files would be standard, which could be a problem for me since I am using Inkscape and there is no ‘save as’ option for .ai files. I wonder if they can take in .svg…

All will be answered as soon as I get the chance to talk to their marketing or production arm….

2022 Update:
Well, the concept was a new one for them and try as they might, there was no solution available for the sticker. So, they printed a sample for me on a media called Avery paper and asked me to try. It has a natural light block on the glue side which is great. But because it can only be used on a large format inkjet, the result was a little grainy since it was meant to be seen from a distance.

Playmates Tricorder 006 And the Winner is…

What a lovely surprise! The used Tricorder I bought for UK10 pounds has arrived! I can say, this is the first time I have ever seen a Tricorder being sold for such price in all eBay history. (Either that or I am outdated). The prices nowadays (used or brand new) are usually in the regions of USD130 or more, minus postage.

It is in great working condition and the usually stiff hinges are already pre-worn for me
Playmates Tricorder 007
05022013 Here comes the sound!

This just came today, which is actually a programmer/tester for the sound module. But what you see in the picture is a smaller 16-pin sound module. I am going to use this for the Tricorder instead of the longer/bigger 28-pin. I think both have the same functions except that the smaller 16-pin version does not have the convenience of a mini USB port.

So, for idiots like me, who does not/want to know about 3-wire programming, I have to compensate by getting this costly programmer/tester. It is very convenient for me as I can immediately test the function for each button after programming without having to set up a prototype board. But for those who knows about programming and all, fret not as there are direct connections for you too. Plus, instead of hooking up to a USB port for power, I can also plug in a 9 volt battery to make the whole thing portable.

Lastly, if you look at the picture closely, it is missing a speaker as I did not have the pin connectors nor the 8 Ohm speaker. Anyway, I have completed the Tricorder sounds already and have programmed them into the chip. They are:

1. The opening of the Tricorder (from Internet)
2. The Tricorder Wwarble (from my Star Trek:Generations CD soundtrack)
3. The closing of the Tricorder (from my EFx’s MK IX prop)

The red LED is on when there is power and the green LED goes on when the sound is being played. This can be set during programming.

So, nice or not?

Update 2022: I have now started to use the RS-232 interface. For the Tricorder idea, I was using the concept of push-buttons which is a bit of a trouble when being controlled from a microcontroller since it also uses more ports. So, the programmer I have invested in, was only used a few times and I have located other MP3 modules since this model was more or less becoming rare on the market. You don’t see much of it on sale. So, the latest ones I had was pretty much going towards the Sunset too but has the same function and even when it has the USB connector, it is much more compact. You can download the files through the USB as the Computer will see it as a storage device. The only catch is, I need to improve my RS-232 knowledge to be able to communicate with it. Otherwise, I would need more output ports from the microcontroller.
Playmates Tricorder 008

This is the final design for the Mk.VII. The layouts for the sticker printing, black vinyl cutting and laser cutting are ready.

Looks good to me and I am not going to do anything else to it. So, this is the cut-off point because the more I look at it, the more I want to change it. So, I’ll leave it as it is and next Friday, hopefully the Vendor’s Friend’s friends would be able to help me out. Its just a matter of seeing if they could accept .svg and .pdf files instead of the .ai which is so commonly used in the sign making and printing industry, no thanks to Adobe Illustrator.

Sorry about this being a bit blur as I intentionally want to make it that way, just in case. You never know. Moreover, I can tell you that its not 100% accurate to the original props. This went out of the window at the very first step when I want to use the Playmates toy as the basis of this project. Ha ha ha ha!

2022 Update:
Inkscape has gone through 2 revisions from this version to 0.92 to now, 1.1
The 0.92 has some scaling issues when I was editing the older file. So, I had to make the adjustments from 0.90dp to 0.96dp. It was just a matter of keying in the new numbers but I still wanted to make sure. So, yeah, I took the opportunity to re-design and fine-tune the graphics.
Playmates Tricorder 009 30 minutes with idle hands

What the Hell are you doing? That is a vintage USD200 Collector’s item toy you numbskull!

To be continued…
Playmates Tricorder 010 Having fun with a rotary tool

This is what happens after I used the PE circular saw from Crazy Modeler and the basic sanding heads from my 6~8 year old el cheapo rotary tool. Its almost on its last legs but no expensive Dremels or Proxxons for me as they’re luxuries I still cannot afford nor appreciate.

Anyway, the inner top is done, next would be the lower half, then the flap, and finally, coming back to the two halves of the body. Its a lot of work but in this case, you need as much room inside as possible.

One thing I liked about this Playmates Tricorder is that the sounds are LOUD, thanks to the echo chamber (the circular thingy you see on top of the battery housing on top right). But sadly, this too would have to go…
Playmates Tricorder 011 Mystery part

Do you know what this is? Do you think its the containment housing for the Sarium Krellide power cells?
Playmates Tricorder 012 Another 30 minutes of fun…

Yep. The lower half is ready. Now, the next stage is to prepare them as mentioned by gmprops’s Assembly Manual (aka Gerhard Mros). He occasionally pops up on eBay now and then. So, if you want to see how these are all done, you can get a copy of his manual. Plus, it comes with free electronics for your Playmates Tricorder.
Playmates Tricorder 013

Wow. It’s been SEVEN years since my last entry for this project. At that time, it was really a trying time for me.

Anyway, I have found the sticker that I have designed and now, it’s time to test the pudding. As I have said, it is not easy to get the solutions I need here in Malaysia. You either have to show them how it is done and then pay through the nose or find it and accept their MOQ.

I was lucky with this print shop which helped me to print the design. Although the result is grainy, but hey, it’s still the best I can get at that time.

2022 Update: Maybe I should be looking for a laser printable sticker with metallic backing for long term solutions… I know it does exist.
Playmates Tricorder 014

The printer called this the Avery paper print. And I just discovered that it is absolutely opaque on the other side! With the sticker held against the lamp, the only place which allowed the light to go through was the small rectangle which I have cut out! Whoohoo!
Playmates Tricorder 015

Hookay, so it needs some adjustment as the original printout looked OK to me. I’ll definitely have to locate the original working files… Just have to locate which HDD I have stored. You know, maybe I should have gone Cloud.
Playmates Tricorder 016

With the rest of the stickers cut out and placed onto the toy, it became apparent that I would need a lot of fine tuning. But what raised the question was that the mock printout from a laser printer showed me accurate results… weird. Maybe the printer did not print it to exact specs and I did not bother to check at that time (2013, wei) since his sample was free.
Playmates Tricorder 017: Different version of Inkscapes

Well, this is really a significant setback for me. After I found the 2013 file, and because it was done in the previous version of the software (which I do not have) at 90DPi, the new version has converted it to 96DPi.

I am not sure what this means but the horizontal measurements were off plus some of the rectangles have gone oval and so on. This means I will have to rebuild the file and re-measure all over again, not just for the stickers but also for the vinyl patterns and the sensor area placement too. Sigh.
Playmates Tricorder 018

I am now at the Sensor part and I have been fighting with myself the whole evening. This is because the green sensor are actually not symmetrical to the Tricorder’s body. Since I do not have the STNG DVD Collection, I am basing this on some photos I got from the Internet and also, from the Movie, Generations.

In the scene where Data and Geordi were examining the wreckage of the Laboratory for Trilitium, Data’s Tricorder has the symmetrical scanner while Geordi’s does not. And if you look at the picture on the top left, courtesy of Filmwelt Collection, it proved that. There are so many Tricorders that displays them as being symmetrical. Maybe I should follow that.

We’re now locked in the house due to the Covid but once we are allowed to come, I will need to locate the vintage red rectangular LED as well.

Also, if you are able to freeze frames on this scene and compare the two Tricorders, you would notice that both Tricorders have different lights being sequenced. I would just think that they are on different scanning settings rather than the Bulbs blown. I say bulbs because this movie was in the mid-90’s where White LEDs were still not commercially available to the general public.
Playmates Tricorder 019

One month already? After recovering and reconstructing the original file, I felt that the work I did 7 years ago was not that great. This was the design for the black vinyl stickers. So, I measured the sensor area again, this time using the slight indentations as guide and came up with the ‘coloured’ version so it is easier for me to spot errors. The reason being is that, over time, the glue for the vinyl stickers might fail and can easily peel off if that area scratches/hooks into something sharp. So, if I design the vinyl to fit into the indentation, this minimises that.

Also, looking at it from another point of view, I can at least get much more accurate fonts plus, clear up a lot of beginner mistakes in the Inkscape. (At least I know how to use layers and alignment now)

I am still deciding if I want to have slanted green sensors or not as this decision would also affect the design of the circuit board.
Playmates Tricorder 020

Anyway, I can say that these files are done and I won’t know the result until I test it with a Laser printer before looking for that printer shop again. And thanks to Alex Lee who showed me how to resize the DPi so that it would look OK on the latest version of the Software.

Right now, that is the first step and the next would be the circuit board design and others but yeah, one step at a time since this it Malaysia and I would need to search for vendors who can provide the solutions I seek. We’re talking about specific LEDs, clear resin casting, maybe some 3D printing…
Playmates Tricorder 021
MKVII Tricorder by Sean Pallas

This was one of the sites I followed when I was Learning about the MkVII Tricorders. You know, I so wanted an actual Tricorder but they would be very ‘fragile’ once I take them out for daily scanning. This is why I always go for the Playmates as the whole construction is plastic and well, more robust especially at the hinges.
Playmates Tricorder 022

I am not so well versed with these type of tools and more than a decade ago, I still can’t even make something from Illustrator except make it eat more RAM. GIMP was also another challenge before I settled with Inkscape (because it sounded cool).

Right now, I think I have scratched only about 5% of its overall function. I still can’t draw any convincing lines and snap them but well, I am glad I managed to reach this stage. So far so good.
Playmates Tricorder 023

Minor adjustments here and there, with the measurements so small, not even a digital caliper can help. So, its just the metal ruler and eyeballs…

This was the first version of the design which got printed out some weeks ago.
Playmates Tricorder 024

So worried about the design that I completely missed the slight slant at the flap area. Hopefully, the re-design today will give me better results.
Playmates Tricorder 025 Almost there

I fine-tuned the design to accommodate the slight inner slant on the upper cover of the Tricorder and I had to redo the upper right Sensor as this is really out. When I first started on the label, the anchor point was the two oval sensors. Once I get this right, the two vertical 3mm holes on the right started to fall into place.

What made me so happy was that the 8 green scanning LEDs also lined up with the split of the two body halves, which makes the cutting out much easier later on.

Lastly, if you compare this with the actual prop, the black sensor area of this design is much smaller. The reasoning is that if I ever get someone to cut the vinyl, the shape would follow the shallow indentation of the toy. This means, it is much harder to peel off the vinyl should the Tricorder rubbed off with clothing or other stuff.

And I am still looking for the top right red rectangular LED. This is the vintage LED which measures 3.65 x 6.15mm (aka 4mm x 7mm most probably from Lumex). It is thicker because of the white border compared to the modern 2x5x7mm variant. I will have to hunt down for a sample and if I believe that it is too ‘big’ I will go for the smaller 2x5x7 version instead. Alas, with the extension of our MCO to June 09, going to the local electronics shop is now out of the question…
Playmates Tricorder 026

I need the design to be as compact as possible so that other off the self components still have space. Anyway, these are the LEDs and using the 3mm LED as the base size, you can see how small they are.

I do not have experience with the 5730 LED yet, but I am going to get some samples. I did have some which are slightly larger but they are white and almost like those COB version, which is very bright. However, this time, I am going to use green and blue, so the brightness will be quite noticeable.

2022 Update: The 5730 green LEDs are quite bright even and well, it kinda fits into the holes of the shell but this would also mean precision soldering. It was OK at 15mA but I might want to bump it up to 20mA although it was rated at 150mA.
Playmates Tricorder 027

Took me a few hours since this is the first time I created a component from scratch. I was switching between each different editors to make sure that all the Rules are checked and testing it on the main circuit.

So far, so good.
Playmates Tricorder 028 It does seem to fit…

In the midst of re-opening the Office, I had enough time to do a quick mock-up of the uoLED screen onto a proposed measurement of the main circuit board.

I did have enough information to do this but somehow, my mind went blank. So, this was the only route I can think of. 🤦‍♂️

But this does not mean the problem is settled as right now, this is only for component measurement and I have not finalised circuit design yet.
Playmates Tricorder 029

You know, I might be going this the wrong way as I am splitting the few functions into a few microcontrollers. So, maybe, it is back to the design stage again and use one single microcontroller instead.
Playmates Tricorder 030

Just a photo of Wesley using the MkVI Tricorder in ‘The Final Mission’. I noticed that when he was frantically ‘pressing’ the commands on the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta area, the beeps are consistent.
Playmates Tricorder 030A: Eyeballing vs Digital Caliper

Well, I can say, it’s almost done. It would not be exactly 100% fit but it’s close enough. The Digital Caliper made a lot of difference when I compared the current design to what I did years ago. It brought the 0.5mm eyeball guesswork closer to 0.2’s range of accuracy.

While waiting for more components to arrive, I guess I can go ahead with the sensor board PCB design.
Playmates Tricorder 031

The placement of the LEDs match well with the actual cut-outs!
Playmates Tricorder 032

But I am still not confident with the screen until I have means of getting the actual product. This mockup with the measurement taken from their datasheet looks OK but I know I am still about a millimeter or so off.
Playmates Tricorder 033

After so many weeks with the MCO, the 16340 charger/power came. This module not only charges the Li-Ion cell but also is able to provide two crucial voltages; namely 3.3volts and 5volts which is perfect for my circuits. More than a decade ago, I was designing the circuit based on 3x AAA (4.5volts) and they were bulky.

To be honest, the shipment from China was not affected at all. It’s only when it arrived into Malaysia, the real delay was apparent. Many people during the MCO very quickly discovered the joys of Internet shopping more than ever…
Playmates Tricorder 034

The board does hold up well inside there and I hope it does not need to be moved much during charging. Although this looked like there is a lot of space but once the sensor board has been confirmed, there would be an additional 5mm.

And, it would be another 30 days or so before I can get those batteries since the MCO has barricaded Jalan Pasar and I could not get to my favourite electronics shop.

Update 2020: You know, I might want to change to LiPo batteries since this module could be very bulky but you’d never know.
Playmates Tricorder 035

Finally, the uOLED-160G2 from 4D systems arrived. This is the LCD module which is able to play the movie files stored inside the Industrial Grade microSD card. Using just two inputs, I am able to select the file to play. That is, if I have the time because as of 29.05.2020, hours this package came, the company announced we would be working full time starting from the month of June.

But all is not ready since the programmer requires a mini-USB cable. Not micro but mini. Dang.
Playmates Tricorder 036

Anyway, with the screen, this looks a good size. I think I did have the 128 version but its been more than 10 years since we moved, I have completely lost the module. It was with 4D Systems’s current 25% discount that I managed to get another.
Playmates Tricorder 037

So, yeah, I was about 1.4mm off. Which is not great. Can you spot the problem here? Yep, I would need to take care of the 10-pin connectors poking upwards which might take up space.

But seriously, this LCD version is a little too challenging right now and I am so rusty with my bitmap animation since my days with the Amiga and using DPaintIV.
Playmates Tricorder 038
So, finally, after two years with nothing to show, I bit the bullet and after chatting with Mr. Gerhard Mros aka gmprops, he sent one to me. You could say I have come full circle. But yeah, at the rate I am going with my own ON and OFF design, it would take another two lifetimes before it is complete. And I want one NOW, at least before I die.

I have also discovered some original photos I took when I was doing his first version almost 20 years ago. I will put them up once I can find the notes to accompany them. And yeah, there is a lot of difference between that version and now.
Playmates Tricorder 039
These are the contents of gmprops’s current version of the Playmates Tricorder upgrade and there are so much design revisions, I don’t even know where to start. OK, I can start by looking for the misplaced Webcam…
Playmates Tricorder 040
I cannot find my Webcam and so, the plans for Videoing my reviewing of gmprops’s latest Board will have to wait. In the meantime, I have updated the design for the vinyl stickers. And so, I will test them out with the laser printer while waiting for a vendor to reply. Although the design looked as if they have double parts, some of them would be used as a cutting template for making holes in the toy. And then the spare would be used as the proper sticker. Some also are for when you want to modify the red LED in the sensor area as the original rectangular LED is much bigger than the modern 2mm x 5mm x 7mm version. I am not sure why I included the front panel but hey, that’s on me.

This is not the final design as I am going to use them for building the current Playmates Tricorder. Once that is done, I would then have to readjust the design and remove what is not necessary.