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.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

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