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New use for an old technology brings touch input to... almost anything

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Imagine, if you will, a world where everything from the clothes on your back to the glass in your hand was a touch-enabled device. We're not there yet, but thanks to researchers at the University of Munich and the Hasso Plattner Institute, we're closer to just such a touchy-feely future. Those German scientists are now able to tell when and where your fingertip touches (or gets close to) a wire using time domain reflectometry, or TDR. It works by sending electrical pulses through a wire and measuring the time it takes for the pulses to return. See, the presence of a finger reflects some of the pulse, and by using an oscilloscope and a computer to view and analyze the resulting waveform, researchers can pinpoint where the touch occurs. TDR has been used for years to find faults in underwater cabling, but only recent advances have allowed its application over the short distances used in consumer applications. In its current form, the equipment isn't quite ready for public consumption -- those pulse generators and detectors need to shed a few pounds first -- but given how quickly silicon's shrinking, it shouldn't be long before our truly tactual world is real.



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