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The Little Detecto

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The Geiger counter clicks as it detects radiation, so beware if it gets too loud.

"Tracked you down with this. This is my timey-wimey detector. It goes 'ding' when there's stuff."
The Doctor, Doctor Who, "Blink"

It's a wonderful device — a detector that detects the things you need! There is a detector for everything — Applied Phlebotinum, Green Rocks, guns, bombs, spaceships, ghosts, mice, cheese, socks... If you live in a high-tech setting and need to find something, there is a type of The Little Detecto that will detect it!

The physics behind the Little Detecto is never explained. It just detects the thing that is the local Serious Business.

The Trope Namer is a gadget from one Tom and Jerry cartoon that was used to detect mice.

Compare Thing-O-Meter, a comedy trope. Contrast with Everything Sensor; The Little Detecto only detects the one thing that is Serious Business.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • About the only good thing about the Brand of Sacrifice from Berserk is that it lets Guts know when the demons are coming for him by bleeding.
  • In Digimon Tamers, the D-Arc is able to detect where Digital Fields appear, which contain Digimon that crossed to the real world.
    • Every version of the Digivice has something like this, detecting either Digimon, Upgrade Artifacts, rifts that can let someone travel between it and the human world, and so forth... pretty much whatever is needed.
  • The dragon radar in Dragon Ball, made by Bulma to find the Dragon Balls. Handwaved by saying that the Dragonballs emit a special kind of radiation in the first chapter of the series.
  • In Love Hina, Kaolla Su produces a device that detects turtles... and some kind of pot, the two words being homonyms in Japanese. She later upgrades it to detect Keitarou and Naru.
  • In Pokémon: The Series, Officer Jenny (Junsa in the original) just happens to have a sleep wave detector in her pocket when the situation calls for it. Dogasu (he compares the dub to the original) says here:
    The whole thing is fine at first. We're presented with a mystery, and for a little while there the story makes some very logical progressions...but then everything just goes all to hell when Junsa (and, later, the Rocket-Dan) pulls out a freakin' sleep wave detector. Because, y'know, that's what police officers just happen to carry around with them at all times. I can totally imagine Junsa's orientation day at the police station. "'s your badge, your gun, and your standard issue sleep wave detector. Good luck."
  • In addition to being the source of a Magical Girl's power and their effective phylactery, Soul Gems in Puella Magi Madoka Magica are also handy Witch detectors as shown in the second episode, glowing brightly when they're close to a Witch's presence.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, when Yusuke and his teammates need to locate Hiei, Botan mentions the Spirit Detective Tools. The Demon Compass finds demons by measuring demon energy. The Mystic Whistle is a whistle for demons that functions like a dog whistle; it causes Hiei to appear.
    Hiei: I only came to find the source of the vile noise... and kill it.

    Comic Books 
  • Immortal Hulk: Doctor McGowan produces a device that detects gamma radiation, showing that Jackie has become a gamma mutate.
  • The HEYDAR and the BTRS Meter on The Middleman.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Warhammer fic An ISOT in Grimdark, German scientists invent special "magic indicators" that prove invaluable in helping detect concealed magic wielders and dangerous magical artifacts like the warpstone bombs...
  • In the Harry Potter fic Mr. Black and the Demoness, a mad scientist friend of Harry's made a "Dork Lord" detector out of an old alarm clock.
  • The Return, pattern detectors. Little palmtop things that tell you if the creature currently ripping your heart out through your ribcage is a demon or not.
  • Cheat Code: Support Strategist has Midoriya figure out how to make a device that detects gravitational anomalies in order to figure out where Ochako goes once she gains the ability to teleport from One For Alll He later learns he can also use it to detect Kurogiri's warping as well.
  • Vow of Nudity: After learning how to craft magic spears, Haara (an escaped slave from the Genasi Empire) starts carrying around one that glows faintly if Genasi are ever within 120 feet of her.

    Films — Animation 
  • Luckily, Calhoun from Wreck-It Ralph just happens to have a hand-held Cy-Bug detector, for those times that a Cy-Bug escapes the game.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The motion detectors in Alien use changes in air pressure to detect movement. Very small changes in air density are what we call sound. So, it's a microphone?
    Ripley: What's it key off?
    Ash: Micro changes in air density.
  • Of course, the PKE (psycho-kinetic energy) Meters (for detecting ghosts and ghost phenomena), Ecto-Goggles (for seeing invisible ghosts), Giga-Meter (maybe for environmental psychokinetic effects?), and the ghost-sniffer (may be a real-world gas detector for crossing off "hallucination stemming from gas inhalation," may be an in-universe paranormal detector using a real-world detector as a prop), all from Ghostbusters (1984).
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past features special devices capable of detecting the Mutant X-gene ... as early as 1973. Makes you wonder why the government didn't use those in any of the films set later
  • J-Men Forever. The J-Men use the rock-and-roll-detector to locate the Lightning Bug's secret broadcast cave. Of course the whole thing is Played for Laughs, which is why they don't just use a Radio Direction Finder.

  • Poul Anderson's The Snows Of Ganymede: 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.
  • Isaac Asimov's "First Law": The MA series is equipped with "vibro-detectors" because Titan doesn't have a magnetic field and it had been difficult to stay oriented in the Perpetual Storm of its atmosphere. What the vibro-detectors actually detect isn't clear, since you can use gyrocompasses instead of magnetic compasses, which determine true north from the planet's rotation instead of its magnetic field.
  • Chrestomanci: In Witch Week, Inquisitors carry witchcraft detectors. Chrestomanci's, however, is just a cigarette case that he causes to beep at appropriate times; he doesn't need a machine to tell him when someone's a witch.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld
    • "Numbers" Riktor designed numerous Little Detectos for different things (like the Swamp Meter and the Mouse Counter). The only one that became relevant to the books was the resograph, which alerted the wizards to a serious incursion in reality. Probably named after the Richter Scale.
    • The thaumometer, as used by Ponder Stibbons and others, is the Discworld examplar of the universal Everything Detector.
    • The swords of the Nac Mac Feegle glow when they're near lawyers, a reference to The Lord of the Rings.
  • Rama II: Nicole, the life sciences officer, uses robotic nanites to monitor the heart rates and chemical levels in the bloodstream of the Newton astronauts. It tells her when Reggie is drugged, though that data was tampered with and she had to recover the originals, and also tells her that Takagishi has a weak heart, which is what did him in. She had warned him that his arrhythmia was flaring up, and he had gone on a night mission and had an unfortunate encounter with an octospider.
  • Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn: Bronze Allomancers (also known as Seekers), can detect Allomancy. The most basic level is simply being able to sense when Allomancy is being used and who's using it, but more skilled Seekers can detect what metal is being burned, whether or not it's being flared, which emotions a Soother or Rioter is trying to affect, and even how much metal the Allomancer has left.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: Elven swords, made during their war against the goblins, glow when in the presence of orcs. During The Hobbit, the protagonists discover three such swords hidden in the cave of the trolls. Glamdring and Orcrist are taken by Gandalf and Thorin, while Bilbo takes up a much smaller sword and names it Sting. Frodo inherits Sting, and its detection ability is used in Moria and Mordor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blake's 7: In "Seek-Locate-Destroy", molecular shift detectors are set up around a Federation base that Blake is expected to attack. No explanation is given as to why we don't see them installed at other Federation bases in later episodes.
    Escon: Apparently there's an enormous kinetic potential set up by teleport communications. A rough analogy would be the static buildup during an electrical storm.
    Travis: Yes, well, I'm always grateful for a rough analogy. What does it do?
    Escon: It tells us exactly where and when they land.
  • Doctor Who:
  • In The Flash, Earth-2 has a cellphone app that can detect nearby Metahumans.
  • Molly Walker from Heroes can find people.
  • In People of Earth a guy at a UFO convention has a device that he claims detects cosmic radiation on people, but Alex is quite skeptical when he claims she has a very high level of cosmic rays, indicating she's been to space.note  She thinks the wand looks like a curling iron. But, later Don passes by the booth and the device goes crazy.
  • Stargate Atlantis features the Life Signs Detector, about the size of a PDA and highly useful in many situations.

  • Bookburners: In Anywhere But Here: When Sal goes to the Vatican Library, she gets shown "The Orb" which, with some enhancement over the centuries, detects magical activity all over the globe and gives both time and GPS coordinates.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Muppet Show: Bunsen Honeydew once invented a gorilla detector. It completely failed to detect the gorilla until after it had already attacked his computers, and him. Bunsen originally attributed the failure to the fact that the attacker was not actually a gorilla.

  • Our Miss Brooks: Walter and Miss Brooks use a Geiger counter in "Rare Black Orchid" to search for uranium. Walter had discovered some on his shoe and concluded he had unknowingly stepped in uranium recently.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, many spells work like The Little Detecto. They have titles beginning with "Detect", as simple as that:
    • Earlier editions had quite a few; Detect Magic, Detect Evil, Detect Good, Detect Undead, Detect Traps...etc. 5th edition simplified them to four broader spells: Detect Evil & Good note , Detect Magicnote , Detect Poison & Diseasenote  and Detect Thoughtsnote . They all have the stipulation, in every edition "it is blocked by 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt" to help a savvy DM keep them from breaking the game (as all of them are level 1 spells, aside from Thoughts, which is second).
    • Find Traps works as this. Contrary to the name, it does not actually find any traps, it just lets you know if there are any mechanical or magical traps within line of sight of you inside the spell's range. It also only detects traps that were deliberately set, so natural hazards that are otherwise identical to traps won't be detected. It's generally regarded as a completely useless spell.
    • Paladins in 5th Edition get Divine Sense, which allows them to know the location of any celestial, fiend, or undead that's within 60 feet of them and not behind total cover. Under most circumstances, they can probably already see any creatures that would be detected by the ability, so it's largely only useful for confirming that a being is what it appears to be.
    • Rangers in 5th Edition get the Primeval Awareness ability at 3rd level, which lets them burn a spell slot in order to automatically know if there are any aberrations, celestials, dragons, elementals, fey, fiends, or undead within a one mile radius of the ranger. It doesn't tell the ranger anything else, such as how many there are or in what direction they happen to be.
  • The Detect advantage in GURPS, of course. In the Magic book nearly all the spells relating to this stem from "Detect Foes".
  • The most basic building block of Enhanced Senses powers in the Hero System. For example, radar is basically "Detect objects that reflect radar signals" with some modifiers tacked on to make it work like proper radar in terms of game mechanics.
  • In Mistborn Adventure Game, bronze Allomancers (also known as Seekers), can detect Allomancy. The most basic level is simply being able to sense when Allomancy is being used and who's using it, but more skilled Seekers can detect what metal is being burned, whether or not it's being flared, which emotions a Soother or Rioter is trying to affect, and even how much metal the Allomancer has left.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
  • In Paranoia, the detecto ties in with the game's Color-Coded for Your Convenience security level system.
    Little Detecto: Are you security clearance Green or lower?
    Hapless clone: Yes...?
    Little Detecto: Then you are still receiving acceptable levels of radiation.

  • BIONICLE has the Kanohi Elda, Mask of Detection. It functions as a detector for the fabled Mask of Life, and signals to its wearer with an ever-intensifying headache. And it can't be turned off. Yeah, nasty mask... but when the situation called for the Mask of Life to be located, headaches were among the least of the wearer's worries.

    Video Games 
  • Beyond Good & Evil has both the Pearl Detector and the Animal Detector, which help you find Plot Coupons and animals for your First-Person Snapshooter sidequest.
  • In Dishonored, The Heart lets you detect runes and bone talismans, and can tell you secrets about people you point it at.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has three detection spells, Detect Magic, Detect Creatures, and Detect Key. While the last is very handy, one wonders what aspect of keys makes them detectable versus any other particular object. (Although it does serve a kind of Mundane Utility verisimilitude. One can only imagine a wizard inventing it after turning his laboratory inside-out trying to figure out where he left his keys last night.)
  • In Final Fantasy IX, the chocobo acts as this while you ride it. They are able to detect things buried in the ground, and a text bubble appears for you to play Hot and Cold as you run around to find the item.
  • The 2009 Ghost Busters The Video Game used the PKE Meters from the films as well the goggles worn by the Player Character to detect objectives, scan ghosts and collect haunted items. Since scanning requires a switch to first person from the camera's usual over the shoulder view, it also made for a Jump Scare or two.
  • Cole from inFAMOUS has the inherent ability to detect nearby Blast Shards, the general direction of dead drops and sources of electricity, including ones in people. This is denoted by icons on the radar and a quick Aura Vision onscreen.
  • The Sheikah Sensor from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild normally targets shrines, but can be upgraded by Purah to target items in the game's compendium as well. It also becomes available with the item targeting already unlocked after a sidequest in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, a bomb disposal expert creates one which specifically searches for the aftershave his Apprentice turned Mad Bomber applies to all his bombs. It turns out he no longer applies it to all his bombs.
  • In the Pokémon games, there's also the Item Finder, which shows you when you're close to items... which can be everything from medicine, to Poke Balls, to glass flutes, to chunks of gold. How it picks these up and ignores everything else is never explained other than "It's just a game, relax."
    • In Diamond and Pearl, in the Sinnoh Underground, you also have a "radar" which lets you find things buried in the ground and walls. These can be both traps and "orbs," which you use to buy things down there.
    • Pokémon Colosseum has a character that can detect an "aura" around Shadow Pokemon. XD replaces her with a device that looks like a DBZ Scouter.
  • The Powder Toy has DTEC. It generates electricity when a specific type (defined by DTEC's ctype) of particle touches it.
  • Rainbow Six Siege has IQ's electronics detector and Pulse's heartbeat sensor.
  • Sam Fisher's goggles in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory gain the ability to view electromagnetic fields, which essentially shows the player electric/electronic devices they can interact with.
  • The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series has the Artifact Detectors, though they only really appeared in Call of Pripyat after being Dummied Out of the earlier installments. There are several different versions, the best of which leans slightly towards being an Everything Sensor as it can also mark the position of non-moving anomalies.
  • Starbound has the Ore Detector, which sends a pulse that detects different ores in the screen you're in, even if they're within the ground.
  • Viscera Cleanup Detail provides a detector as one of your core tools. Toggle it one way and it detects any liquid waste, the other and it detects solid waste. It's incredibly sensitive, able to find things that are nearly (or entirely due to physics engine weirdness) invisible, and can even detect dangerous living organisms or anchors for most incorporeal malignant entities. While it's theoretically possible to get almost any area perfectly clean without using your detector (provided you're painstakingly careful never to make the slightest extra mess yourself), detector sweeps aren't really optional.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 game Dawn of War II—Retribution, during the Ork Campaign when pursuing teleporting Eldars, trusty second in command Mister Nail-Brainz set his git-finda to "Pansy" mode.
  • The World Ends with You: Joshua gets an app from Hanekoma that lets him track some kind of "energy spikes". Things that set it off include the mysterious new Shadow Ramen shop and large crowds of people wearing Red Skull pins. Unfortunately for Neku, the only explanation Josh is willing to give him is that he's looking for "what this tracker is tracking". The Secret Reports explain that it detects the Conductor's Imagination — anything related to Kitaniji's plan will ping it, allowing Joshua to put together what he's up against. At this point, even Hanekoma himself doesn't know what Kitaniji's plan is, so the tracker is the best bet for both of them.

    Visual Novels 
  • Antares Fairchild's route of Starship Promise kicks off because the protagonist has invented one of these which picks up signs of alien life from outside the known galaxy. Upgrading the device (which the protagonist has named the Blip Bop) occupies most of Antares's first season.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • In The Fairly Oddparents, Mr. Crocker has a "fairy detector" that he uses to hunt down Timmy's fairies.
  • In Futurama, Bender once claimed to have built-in Gaydar.
    • Leela has "This thing on my wrist" which sometimes acts as one. For example, in "The Problem with Popplers," it is able to detect whether or not the popplers are poisonous (they're not) before Leela tries them.
    • The robot convention had a Soul Detector. If anything sentient came walking in, they had to pay an admission fee.
    • The Animesque segment of "Reincarnation" features a "deep space emotion detector."
    • Bender once went looking for frozen mammoths.
      Fry: The ship has a mammoth detector?
      Bender: You're drunk, Fry. This is the elephant detector. I just set it to big and woolly.
    • In "Fry Am the Egg Man," Bender is able to detect liquor with his antenna.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • In "Vanessessary Roughness", Dr. Doofenshmirtz "just happens" to have a pizzazium detector in his top pocket after he and his daughter stumble upon a sample at the mall. It comes in handy when Baljeet snags the pizzazium first.
    • In "The Chronicles of Meap", Phineas converts a GPS into a "cute tracker" to find an adorable alien the boys call "Meap". Isabella, who harbors a crush on Phineas, is annoyed that the device apparently ignores her, until Phineas reveals that he deliberately had it ignore Isabella's cuteness. When he adjusts the device to stop ignoring Isabella, it self-destructs.
  • Spoofed on The Ren & Stimpy Show episode "Marooned". Cadet Stimpy pointed one such device at various things on a strange planet, but all that he found out was that "this thing makes the coolest noises."
  • Gargamel had various items used for detecting Smurfs in The Smurfs cartoon show.
  • At the end of Xiaolin Showdown's first season, Jack Spicer builds a Shen Gong Wu detecto-bot.

    Real Life 
  • Metal detectors work by sensing changes in permittivity. Chunks of metal cause this. So do other, non-metal objects, like say a large chunk of meat (in the opposite direction, so it's possible to discriminate between the two, though the cheapest, most primitive kinds don't).
    • Bomb detectors are usually "sniffers" that detect volatile materials given off by the explosives. Or they're glorified metal detectors. Or they're X-ray machines that display something that causes an attendant to think "Hmm, that looks bomb-ish."
    • "Gun detectors" ditto. Basically just metal detectors or X-ray machines that display a suspicious outline.
    • Geiger counters detect ionizing radiation. They're wonderfully agnostic about the source, so they'll happily go nuts if you point them at, say, a cathode ray tube. They're also remarkably insensitive to gamma rays unless properly constructed; they actually react to secondary electrons kicked out of the material surrounding the detector tube by high-energy photons (gamma rays).
  • The Church of Scientology uses these. Depending on who you ask, they detect how unhappy you are, or how many dead souls have glomped onto your body. Or maybe they just detect how tightly you grab the metal cans of the thing.
  • Thanks to their remarkable sense of smell, detection dogs have been trained to work as specialized detectors for rather esoteric things such as explosives, drugs, contraband, blood, human remains, bedbugs, and even cancer. Detection dogs are often used for law enforcement and military purposes, but can also be service dogs (for instance, they can smell when a diabetic patient is hypoglycemic) or working dogs (locating gourmet truffles for cooking, or finding wildlife droppings for conserving endangered species).