Star Trek has finally admitted that the name of one of its signature devices makes no sense. Star Trek is renowned for its adherence to real-world scientific principles, but every so often the franchise must create new devices and technology that do not exist in our world (yet). These devices sometimes carry with them unique and clever names, but in IDW Publishing’s Star Trek: Lower Decks #2, one of them gets a humorous call-out.
The issue is written by Ryan North and Chris Fenoglio. Throughout the Lower Decks comic, the creators put humorous, fourth-wall breaking jokes at the bottom of the page. These little gags range from commentary on the action to truly random, borderline scatological blurbs. One such blurb concerns Ensign Rutherford’s favorite gadget–which he says are dermal regenerators. The blurb explains that Rutherford has been put on the spot–hence the weird answer. It goes on to list some of the other devices he could have said, such as “antimatter injectors” before suggesting, “Plain old tricorder. They cord in three different ways.”
What Does “Tricorder” Mean, Anyway?
Along with the transporter, the tricorder is one of Star Trek’s signature devices. The tricorder is a small, hand-held device used by Starfleet personnel to scan and analyze objects. There are a variety of tricorders–including a medical model. How the tricorder works has never been explored on Star Trek. It got its name because it can perform three functions: environmental scans, data analysis and data recording. Fans have speculated on how the tricorder works, but an official reason has never been forthcoming, and while Lower Decks does not offer an answer, it does poke fun at the device’s name.
The Tricorder is an Important Piece of Tech
Without the tricorder, Starfleet personnel would not be able to do their jobs, as a good portion of it involves scanning, recording and analyzing data. Yet the tricorders’s inner workings, like much of Star Trek’s technology, remains a mystery. The transporter is similar in this regard: the device breaks a subject down at the subatomic level and reconstructs them at their destination. In the real world, such a device would be impossible because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle; yet the transporters have a wonderful invention called “the Heisenberg Compensators,” which provides a workaround. Some of Star Trek’s technology, such as warp drive, is rooted in real-world science but the tricorder remains a mystery.
Calling out the somewhat goofy name of the tricorder is part of what gives Star Trek: Lower Decks its appeal. The show calls out numerous Trek tropes, and now it is the tricorder’s turn, as well as the franchise’s tech as a whole. The gag acknowledges that while Star Trek attempts to remain grounded in the real world, it must occasionally reach out into the realm of pseudo-science, creating fantastic devices that defy explanation.