Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Microphone Turns Any Surface into Touch Interface

Trees, desks, bus stops, balloons and more are transformed into interfaces.

  • January 3, 2012

Bruno Zamborlin collaborated with Norbert Schnell to use a contact microphone connected to a system that processes sound in real time to turn any rigid surface into a touch interface. There’s no way to explain it adequately in words, so just watch the video:

Anything that reliably transmits sound can be turned into a touch interface

In Zamborlin’s own words, here’s how the magic is accomplished:

Through gesture recognition techniques we detect different kind of fingers-touch and associate them with different sounds. In the video we used two different audio synthesis techniques:
- physic modelling, which consists in generating the sound by simulating physical laws;
- concatenative synthesis (audio mosaicing), in which the sound of the contact microphone is associated with its closest frame present in a sound database.

To put it another way, the system is transforming the vibrations transmitted from touch through a rigid body into waveforms that a computer can, in real time, recognize and either transmute into audible sound or use as a triggering mechanism for other sounds.

It’s an ingenious approach, especially because Zamborlin has made the system clever enough to recognize the sound of particular gestures, so that the interface can accomplish more than just triggering actions when it “hears” a tap.

So will touch interfaces of the future rely on sounds as well as capacitance? Perhaps sound would be a cheaper, more-durable option for certain kinds of interfaces, making touch interactions all the more ubiquitous.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.