Not Just for the Doctor: Time Reversal Leads to Computer Interface

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Maybe I've been watching too much "Doctor Who," but this Science Daily item had me at "time-reversal technology."


Unfortunately, the term has nothing to do with a big blue English police call box spinning through time and space.


But it is revolutionary, nonetheless.


Time-reversal technology could be the key to creating better touch interfaces for computers, among other things. It was developed by a European research team working with Tangible Acoustic Interfaces for Computer-Human Interaction (TAI-CHI). Translated into the vernacular, they're trying to build a computer interface that uses sound. (About the TAI-CHI Web site: It could use a little browser interface help itself. Consider yourself warned.)


The team explored four types of acoustic interface technologies -- which you can read about in the article -- but the most immediately successful is time-reversal technology, which uses one sensor and a normal computer. It works because each location on a surface creates a unique impulse response that the computer can record and use to calibrate that object.


This means you can build an interface using hard substances -- such as metal or wood -- as well as 3D objects -- like, say, a big blue English police call box.


Time-reversal technology isn't new. Others have explored its use through liquids and in medicine or land-mine detection.


The goal of building a tangible acoustic interfaces isn't to replace keyboards as a standard interface, but rather to offer an alternative for situations where keyboards just aren't practical. Specifically, the article mentions extremely dirty environments or hospitals, where germs can lurk on keyboards.


Already, a spin-off company from the University of Paris is at work on commercial applications. The article also mentions that members of the team are exploring commercial applications of the technology with a wireless sensor and Bluetooth.


And CeTT, a Swiss member of the consortium, has created a developer's kit, which includes algorithms the team developed, as well as software and hardware.