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Everything Sensor

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Tricorder: widdily-wee! widdily-wee! widdily-wee!
Spock: Captain, this entire planet is made of widdily-wee.

In space, no one can hear you scream. Unless they're using an Everything Sensor.

The Everything Sensor comes standard on the Cool Ship, and it does what it says on the box: It can detect and analyze anything. Literally anything. The Negative Space Wedgie, the Lost Technology, the Green Rocks, or whatever other Unknown Phenomenon our plucky explorers of space happen to run into. (Odd since, if it's an Unknown Phenomenon, how would the ship designers know to install something that could detect it? Those are some Crazy-Prepared engineers there...) It can even detect whether the ship is being scanned by someone else's Everything Sensor.

It will always come with an Enhance Button and at least one Thing-O-Meter. Sometimes its Readings Are Off the Scale.

If for some plot-based reason you need it to not see something, this is usually excused at the climax by "we didn't set it to scan for that in particular, but now that we know what we're looking for..." In rare cases, the Everything Sensor can't see the Techno Babble directly, but it can detect some byproduct of it. And if nothing else, you can always recalibrate the sensor by Reversing the Polarity.

In fact nearly every Cool Ship in a sci-fi franchise has some kind of sensor that can detect "lifeform readings" from orbit.

Not to be confused with an Everything Censor. Compare The Little Detecto, a more specialized device.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Negima! Magister Negi Magi, Chachamaru's is built-right-in.
  • Queen Millennia: Tsukuba Observatory's computer not only can analyze fingerprints, but can tell the "life energy" of their owner, and deduces that despite it being her fingerprints and her not having no alibi, the culprit behind the Amamori Electric Ironworks lab's explosion can't be "this Yayoi". Shortly it turns out the present Yayoi is her android double.
  • In Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury's mini-computer could zero in on pretty much anything you'd call phlebotinum. It came in handy less often than you'd think.

    Comic Books 
  • Doom Patrol: Hector the Boy Detector, a member of the Brotherhood of Nada, carries a metal detector of alien origin which can be used to detect any kind of corporeal object or abstract concept.
  • The Legion of Super-Heroes uses a handheld device called an Omnicom.
  • Mega Man (Archie Comics): The Robot Masters seem to be equipped with these, mostly linked to their purpose but seems to have a wide range of uses. ProtoMan expresses surprise that Quake Woman has a built in Geiger counter. She notes that it's useful for her purposes of geological excavation.
  • The Pitt: Somehow a radar operator can instantly tell without independent verification when a city has turned into a crater.
    Technician: If I'm readin' this right, Pittsburgh just turned into a crater — fifty miles across!
    Officer: Great Godawmighty! He's right!! That's the only way to interpret that image!

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy's original two-way wrist radio evolved over the decades into the wrist TV, and finally into the "wrist computer," described as a kind of portable crime lab. While not really on par with most of the gizmos on this page, it's still a much nicer portable analyzing device than anything we have yet in real life. The current version is called a "wrist geenee," basically the same thing with a few more bells and whistles.

    Fan Works 
  • The canonical idea of the Thaumometer is given in extra twist or two in A.A. Pessimal's take on the Discworld. When hooked up to HEX and a handy omniscope, they become a versatile tool for detecting... just about anything. Even if the reading can be vague, contradictory, confusing or downright unhelpful.
  • In Make a Wish, Harry asked a mad scientist friend of his to come up with something that could "detect poisons and things". Upon producing a nifty little doodad called a Hex-Quarter, its inventor said that it also "can detect wards, has several forensic charms, several diagnostic charms, a database of plants and animals, and much much more".

    Film — Animation 
  • In Big Hero 6, Baymax can do a full medical scan of a patient in about 2 seconds that not only reveals even minor injuries, but also emotional states (via brain chemistry), allergies, blood types, and cholesterol levels. He's later upgraded with an enhanced sensor that can scan thousands of people in the city all at once in about 10 seconds.
  • In WALL•E, the captain drops some dirt "into" a sensor and asks the computer to analyze it. While we never see it analyze anything else, the way that computer responded is a good indication that it can dig up the dirt on just about anything it's presented with.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Europa Report, they have a sensor that can not only scan for the life on ice, but display a full 3D graphic of the life faster than a person with a microscope could do so.
  • Parodied (of course) in Galaxy Quest, where it would work a lot better if it wasn't being held upside-down. It does help them out after they fix that issue, though.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Peter has amusingly converted a Mattel football game into a sensor that can detect an approaching extra-dimensional alien, among other things.

  • In the Boundary series, A.J. Baker uses nanotechnological "Faerie Dust" to scan just about everything for everything. Justified in that the Dust's capabilities are fairly well defined and based on actual research work being done now and extended into the future; the Dust Motes are very small computing devices with micro-scale sensors and actuators but can act in concert wirelessly, within limits of the power available and their programming.
  • The Thaumometer, and related devices used by wizards on the Discworld are handy devices apparently running on Phlebotinum, used to ascertain the precise degree of eldrich, strange and potentially unseemly things going on in the vicinity of Ankh-Morpork and Unseen University. Most wizards carry one somewhere about their persons as the accepted Everything Sensor. Ponder Stibons is never without one.
  • In The History of the Galaxy books, pretty much all sensors act this way. The author usually mentions that the sensors simply return the "energy signature" of the target, and it's up to either the operator or the machine to figure out what it could be based on known signatures. Space Marines are trained to be able to identify signatures at a glance. In one novel, a Space Marine gets empathic powers, allowing him to "see" nervous systems of living creatures. Instinctively, he combines this ability with his training, which allows him to shoot shapeshifters in the brain (i.e. the largest collections of neurons he sees).
    • Specially-trained humans with multiple implants in their heads (known as cybreakers or mnemonics) are likewise able to scan their surroundings without any external devices. In fact, they are even able to see the force lines inside Hypersphere.
  • The Lost Fleet series is a notable aversion, despite being a Space Opera series that owes more than a little to Star Trek. The sensor systems aboard a warship are explicitly limited to optical and infrared cameras and wide-spectrum radio telescopes, and both the sensors themselves and the ship-to-ship voice and data links are limited to the speed of light. Much tension is derived from trying to figure out what a distant enemy warship formation are doing now when all the heroes know is what they were doing minutes or hours ago, or infer what's going on inside a space habitat or an outpost beneath the surface of an airless planetoid from whatever radio traffic they can intercept.
  • Nicole from Rama II has a sensor which can detect if objects found are safe for human consumption. She uses it to clear for eating the mana melons the Avians brought her when she was trapped in a pit on the spaceship.
  • The Snows Of Ganymede by Poul Anderson, the Planetary Engineers carry a 'general unit' which can be modified for any purpose required, as they are an order of Gadgeteer Geniuses.
    A man in the field, who might have to work hundreds of kilometers from camp, couldn’t pack twenty different meters and detectors. He needed a single device, rugged and portable, which could be adjusted to perform twenty different functions. Davenant had simply connected the thermopile with the galvanometer, blinkered the lens to provide sharp directionality, and come up with an infrared spotter.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sensors even aboard a Space Fighter in Babylon 5 can scan for life readings aboard other ships. While it could be interpreted as scanning for heat signatures, it's also clearly established that one is also able to scan for dead lifeforms. How those are distinguished from the surrounding materials is not clear. This comes up in an episode when Garibaldi, flying a StarFury, has the fighter's computer scan a transport ship for life signs. The computer reports the number of life forms it found. Garibaldi even asks for confirmation that the computer didn't make a mistake in the terms (i.e. the people aboard the transport are all dead).
    • We also frequently hear someone reporting an energy spike just before weapons begin firing. This one might be justified, though.
  • In Doctor Who (especially the revival series) the Doctor's sonic screwdriver can act as an Everything Sensor, e.g. as a medical scanner in "The Empty Child", where it also appears to be an Unusually Uninteresting Sight for the contemporary WWII surgeon watching him.
    • The Sonic Screwdriver is even stranger in that it has no screen or any other way of relaying information, and yet the Doctor always knows exactly what it's detecting.
    • In the original series, K-9 often had this ability, such as detecting approaching monsters or instantly mapping out underground caves.
    • In "Planet of the Dead", Malcolm's equipment can't detect a wormhole. So he makes it display what it can't detect, and that shows the wormhole just fine.
    • The Doctor also has a timey-wimey detector, which goes ding when there's stuff. (And can boil an egg at 30 paces, whether you want it to or not; it can also microwave frozen dinners from up to twenty feet, and download comics from the future. He never knows when to stop.) That might be one of these, but who knows?
    • The sonic screwdriver is rubbish when it comes to wood, though.
    • In the episode "Flatline" of the revival series the Doctor was confused because the TARDIS couldn't detect something that was causing weird phenomena. By mentioning the TARDIS was build to detect virtually anything in the known universe he reasoned the phenomena were caused by beings from beyond the known universe and he was right of course.
  • Firefly actually didn't have an Everything Sensor, interestingly enough. While it was certainly possible to scan ships from a distance, the information provided seemed limited, such as scanning for lifeforms (or rather for heat signatures that could be life forms), scanning for model/type of ship, and scanning for radiation. The Alliance, on the other hand, may have something approaching an Everything Sensor.
  • The Robot on Lost in Space definitely had one installed.
  • In Max Headroom, the "System" (IE the internet) worked like this.
  • In Mighty Med, in one episode Gus is shown to have a lie detector, a radiation detector, and a detector detector, which was going off because of the other detectors.
  • Since the beginning of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Zordon has talked about how his "Sensors indicate" one thing or another. Power Rangers Turbo has the Turbo Navigators. Later, Power Rangers in Space would use the AmScanners for much the same thing.
  • Heavily lampshaded in the Red Dwarf revival. The gang are in a TV store (No Fourth Wall) where a salesman is discussing the show and talking about how stupid the 'psi scan' Kryten uses is. At the same time Kryten psi-scans him, before telling the others the guy's name, address, clothing size, the fact that he's a jerk and that he has a very small penis as a result of the scans data. Toyed with further - Rimmer asks how the scan could possibly have found that and Kryten explains it was a simple matter of the machine hacking into his email account.
    • Parodied in the opposite direction in an earlier episode, when Kryten scans the crew to see if they've been infected by mutated diseases. After beeping and whirring for several seconds, it turns out that the most accurate the scan can get is "going to live".
  • Stargate SG-1, when mankind learned to build starships, we also got the bonus package of sensors that can pinpoint life form readings and all energy sources from orbit. It also plays with it a bit, since the initial Earth-designed sensors were rather poor, needing ground teams to tag objects with beacons before they could localise them. An upgrade from the friendly neighbourhood Asgard solved the problem about the time the Daedalus was introduced.
  • Star Trek is easily the biggest user of this trope. The sensors on starships can detect things as nuanced as the particular species of individuals on a planet from millions of kilometres away, and pick up whatever Phlebotinum is being sought or fired at them this week. Even more egregiously, if something shows up that sensors can't detect, they can be 'reconfigured' to do so, no matter how completely different it may be from the sensor's original purpose.
    • Invoked in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Alternative Factor" when the failure of the sensors is sufficient proof that a parallel universe is involved (or that early Starfleet was a little too overconfident in its technology):
      Spock: Our ship's instruments are specifically designed to locate and identify any object in our universe, be it energy or matter.
    • Interestingly, one episode of Star Trek: Voyager featured them finding the wreck of an early 21st century Mars mission ship which appeared to be the first to mount an Everything Sensor - that's virtually how it was described!
    • The tricorder combines this trope with The Little Detecto; it's a hand-held, all-purposenote  detector for whatever Green Rocks or Phlebotinum residue they're looking for this week.
    • When they scan a ship for "life", they appear to actually scan for "life" — it is pointed out at least once in Star Trek: The Next Generation that their sensors can pick up artificial life, such as androids.
      • And in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine they find a tiny little miniature universe and their sensors can detect there is life in it. In this case, they explicitly infer the presence of life based on "localized decreases in entropy." (Things were not as random within specific areas within the micro-verse in specific ways which indicated life-forms were responsible.)
      • The sensors are aided by the ship's computer which is sophisticated enough to simulate fully sapient beings (at least from The Next Generation onward). The computer is frequently shown being able to theorize and extrapolate from available data based on spoken natural language commands. So the computer is piecing together evidence from a wide array of sensors.
    • One TNG episode does claim that there are materials their internal sensors are not calibrated to scan for by default, and the Danger of the Week just so happens to be caused by one of the materials which went out of common usage decades ago.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Crimestrikers, the titular team's standard equipment includes the Scanscope, which (according to the gamebook) "can detect, scan and analyze anything the heroes need it to in each story." It's also a communications device.
  • GURPS 4e simply refers to this as "para-radar" with the note that it does not mimic any realistic sense.
    • The Ultra-Tech sourcebook actually has such devices, known as "Ultrascanners", which can used as radars, along with scanning for radiation and biological lifeforms, as well as allowing detailed analysis from a distance with scientific skills such as Chemistry and Physics.

    Video Games 
  • In Alien Legacy there's a phenomenon called "transcendental radiation". It was discovered by scientist from a destroyed human colony, and is rediscovered early in the game. It allows to "create a resonance between what the brain can conceptualize and what is physically on the planet's surface", thus allowing to find places or objects of interest, primarily the ruins of the destroyed colony. It is required to get the best ending.
  • ANNO: Mutationem: Ann can use the Grom System to scan around the area to search for Shop Fodder and identify Treasure Chests if they're nearby.
  • Batman's detective vision in Batman: Arkham Series, which can locate Mooks behind several walls, measure their heartbeats and find all kinds of different substances from air and surfaces. In Batman: Arkham Origins it can even create perfect reconstructions of crime scene events.
  • In Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, Radd Spencer is given a "bio-vision scanner" that allows him to analyze pick-up items, enemies, grabbable objects, and even boss weaknesses.
  • Deep Rock Galactic: Despite being mounted on the Space Rig, a space station far above Hoxxes IV, the scanners that Mission Control can read and operate are able to detect movements of individual lifeforms deep underground in order to relay them directly to the mining team moments before they can be attacked, and even telling them when the swarm is coming to an end. They can even pick up individual species, from massive carpeted hordes of Swarmers to just the singular, if gigantic Dreadnought, telling you as much before they can pounce you.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Your cyborg self has all sorts of useful information available including persuasion level, if the target is unconscious or dead, the amount of time it take for a target to get bored looking for you, the vision cones of enemies and the last place enemies were looking for you. All dependent on which augmentations you have active, of course.
    • Justified, because the information you see is being fed to you by a half-dozen different augmentations.
  • Norman Jayden in Heavy Rain has a pair of VR Goggles that allow him to scan crime scenes for all sorts of stuff that most CSI labs would take weeks to analyze, including DNA. Note that the game takes place in 2011 (one year into the future for its year of release). It also has a couple of minigames he can play like a "Throw ball at a brick wall" simulation.
  • Homeworld: You can research and construct two units to enhance your fleet's sensor capacity in two different ways: the Proximity Sensor is a little drone ship that can reveal ships under a cloaking device, and the Sensor Array is a much larger drone ship that lifts the Fog of War across virtually the entire map.
  • Kingdom of Loathing plays this straight with the Detective Skull, which tells you important stats of the monster you're fighting, then parodies it with the Defective Skull joke item, which is an Everything Sensor that only gives useless information. For example, it might tell you that the monster you're fighting has Hit Points (but not how many), or pick a random, absurdly high number and say the monster has that many hit points, or say that it has "approximately eleventy-seven hojillion" hit points.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails: The 'Scan' ability lets a party member fully analyze enemies to learn their weaknesses.
  • Omni-tools in Mass Effect seem capable of scanning and interfacing with anything, from doors, computers and weapons, to 50,000-year-old alien technology that no-one has seen before. They can also be used as a camera, a phone and a flashlight. In 3 they can also stab things.
    • Additionally, in 2 and 3, the Normandy carries a scanning system capable of isolating 4 very specific, useful elements (one of which is not metallic, so it can't just be a metal detector). The same scanning system can also identify anomolies including distress beacons, lifesigns, and shipwrecks. Justified in its element-scanning operations, as the scanner could be measuring density vs. mass and estimating the chances of the specific element at that spot.
    • Prothean VIs are capable of determining whether someone is indoctrinated or not.
  • Mega Man X2: The Radar Helmet detects secret passages and for power-ups that are hidden out of view.
  • Solid Snake gets an eyepatch that acts as an Everything Sensor in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. It can scan the faction affiliation, health level, emotional state, and gun equipped of any soldier you look at. Considering that a large part of the setting of that game is that everyone is connected to a huge system that monitors all these things on a global scale, it is perhaps simply tapping into that.
  • Metroid Prime Trilogy: The Scan Visor which is not just a scanner, it also translates ancient languages, and hacks everything. One scan data from a Space Pirate terminal talks about how the Hunter is casually annihilating their best encryptions. There's also a passive sensor that alerts Samus to environmental dangers, such as fire or lava.
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has Talion acquire "Wraith Vision" allowing him to see everything similar to Arkham's Detective Vision. Justified as he is possessed by a Wraith that can naturally see this way.
  • In the Space Stage in Spore, your ship is equipped with a scanner that can identify any animal, plant or vehicle. It can point you towards missing objects, when you don't know where they are but for some reason you still have to scan it manually.
  • Resident Evil: Revelations: The Genesis Scanner is a multi-purpose tool that can detect hidden items, enemy weak points and handprints, as well as somehow build a composite profile of a virus from a visual scan of infected tissue.
  • Star Control II: When you go to a planet, you can scan it in one of three different ways: Scan for minerals, scan for life forms, or scan for energy readings (though it won't tell you much about the readings you get... you have to land on the surface to find out what's what). Also, scanning will give you other information about the planet, such as its tectonic movements, level of hazardous weather, average surface temperature, and gravity. Oh, and there's also an autoscan feature which does all three basic scans one after another, showing you anything you'd need to know about the planet.
  • In StarCraft II, the "sensors" are able to detect whatever is convenient for the plot.
  • TimeShift: Your on board A.I warns you about electrical hazards, fire hazards, quantum anomalies, shielded enemies, structural instabilities and concealed threats, which could be landmines, enemies about to burst though doors or giant mechs tearing up the place. You can only tell which one after they happen, making the warning slightly less useful.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama uses this as a fashion accessory. In the regular cast, Amy and Leela both have "Wristlojackameters", but only Leela's gets frequent use. Functions include tracing, transmission reception, and assurance that the food on a planet is edible. And Tetris.
  • Infinity Train: Simon has a device which is able to detect passengers in the cars, and can do so over a considerable distance, if not the entire length of the train.
  • Kim Possible's Kimmunicator included sensors for absolutely anything she needed, from GPS to identifying plant samples to scanning someone's brain for evil.
  • Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series has the Mask of Drake Ducaine as an example of this; as well as being the sign of leadership, the Mask is also the only way to see through the personal shields of the Saurian Empire, as well as acting as a 'conventional' X-ray machine and able to see through other disguises. Quite a few plots rely on the Mask being the only way to see through certain disguises or deceptions, with one episode involving the Mask being damaged early on solely so that the subsequent plot would take longer (as the Mask would have quickly revealed that the town the Ducks were visiting was populated entirely by robots rather than people as part of a complex trap).

    Real Life 
  • The Google Android platform has an experimental app called "Google Goggles" which is a step in that direction. It uses the camera to analyze photos and display information on book covers, artwork, landmarks, or restaurants.
  • Hyperspectral sensors allow there to be so much information in an image that a computer can determine exactly what materials everything in it is made of.
  • Clearly fraudulent, but cute nonetheless: one company in America makes dowsing rods that can detect anything from lost golf balls to marijuana in school lockers.
  • Recently, an X-Prize-like competition has been launched that will reward whoever comes up with a small, portable device similar to a tricorder that can take accurate medical readings off of a patient with a minimum of intrusion (including heart rate, glucose, arterial pressure and infections), and possibly even give a diagnosis. It's believed that it would be invaluable in Third World countries where experienced doctors are hard to come by.
  • There are handheld scanner/computer units that identify materials, chemicals, drugs, etc, using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy — just point to the item and press the button.
  • Real Life spacecrafts (read: unmanned space probes) have a whole lot of instruments to study everything, or almost everything, of their mission target(s): camera(s) with many different filters, spectrometers, magnetometers... to give an example, here are the instruments carried by the Cassini probe.
  • While obviously not to the extreme of this trope, several modern weapon systems are going in this direction. A notable example is the Small Diameter Bomb-II, which features a radar, laser guidance, infrared guidance, GPS, inertial guidance, and a data link to borrow data from others just in case its own sensors aren't enough.
  • The Tricorder Project is a direct effort to reproduce the technology in the original series of Star Trek, with a whole suite of sensors in a hand-held unit with a graphical display.
  • Smartphones include besides several cameras, up to ultra-wide and/or telephoto ones, a good deal of sensors that range from (obviously) microphones, GPS, and accelerometers to magnetometers- which allows them to be used as compasses with the adequate app-, luxometers, barometers, etc.
  • The "know when you're being scanned" part of this trope is the purpose of a radar warning receiver, a device on many military vehicles whose job is to inform the crew when an enemy radar has spotted them.
  • A famous con woman, Elizabeth Holmes, launched a company called Theranos that purported to be able to scan a single drop of blood for an abundance of different tests.