Ideas for a time-travel device

I am currently writing a novel that features characters traveling back in time. The main focus of the novel will be the characters and the time period/setting (1934 Chicago) but I did want to have a consistent, well-developed time-travel device. I have been having an enormous amount of trouble coming up with a concept that is satisfactory, though, and I wanted to get people's input on my current idea and maybe suggestions for how to make it better. And, if anybody has any ideas that are completely different than mine, that's fine too... I'd love to hear them.

Here is what I envision the device like now:

The time-travel device is a spherical object roughly the size of a baseball. I have this concept that it originates from humans living far, far in the future. In my mind, the device looks kind of like a round version of Lemarchand's Cube from the Hellraiser series. Some sort of complex action is performed to "open" the device, so that it can't be activated accidentally. Once it's activated, the device rises several feet in the air and opens to reveal an intensely glowing globe of energy. When you place your hand on the globe, suddenly a digital readout appears in your field of vision, displaying your current date. (Right now it displays Month/Day/Year/Hour/Minute... I have no idea how precise a time-machine would actually allow one to be, but the precision has to end somewhere.) Moving your hand forward or backward on the globe allows you to scroll through the month, then you compress the globe to select it... then it moves on to the day, etc... until you have input the intended destination. Once you have selected a time, you compress it again and you are teleported through time.

I just hate this whole concept, though... it's so clunky and unbelievable.

Can anybody offer any new ideas or input on my current concept?



An Old Friend
The Spherical Cube is interesting. Some type of advanced clockwork construct. Might be a great weapon idea.

Time travel is thought to be based on wormholes, rifts or dimensional displacements of some sort. A wormhole (as example) needs to be anchored in the ever moving present and at the ever moving destination. One then just simply steps across to the destination.

Since the device needs to be able to exist beside reality it has to be persistent. It exists in all realities between the destinations. This allows the device to be massless. Such a device might exist in the nano scale. The traveling target is compressed and uncompressed by the device. For story purposes lets say the device exists. How would a traveler control such a device?

Controlling a device based on nano technology would require advanced computing and the most believable would be AI. Seeing how the designers were able to create a device in the nano scale, it would not be much of a leap to think they also use nano scale in other constructs.

To quote Drexler on the properties of a nano-suit that could be used to house billions of nano constructs on the travelers body:
You stand up and walk around, experimenting. You bounce on your toes and feel no extra weight from the suit. You bend and stretch and feel no restraint, no wrinkling, no pressure points. When you rub your fingers together they feel sensitive, as if bare - but somehow slightly thicker. As you breathe, the air tastes clean and fresh. In fact, you feel that you could forget that you are wearing a suit at all. What is more, you feel just as comfortable when you step out into the vacuum of space.

The suit manages to do all this and more by means of complex activity within a structure having a texture almost as intricate as that of living tissue. A glove finger a millimeter thick has room for a thousand micron-thick layers of active nanomachinery and nanoelectronics. A fingertip-sized patch has room for a billion mechanical nanocomputers, with 99.9 percent of the volume left over for other components.

In particular, this leaves room for an active structure. The middle layer of the suit material holds a three-dimensional weave of diamond-based fibers acting much like artificial muscle, but able to push as well as pull (as discussed in the Notes). These fibers take up much of the volume and make the suit material as strong as steel. Powered by microscopic electric motors and controlled by nanocomputers, they give the suit material its supple strength, making it stretch, contract, and bend as needed. When the suit felt soft earlier, this was because it had been programmed to act soft. The suit has no difficulty holding its shape in a vacuum; it has strength enough to avoid blowing up like a balloon. Likewise, it has no difficulty supporting its own weight and moving to match your motions, quickly, smoothly, and without resistance. This is one reason why it almost seems not to be there at all.

Your fingers feel almost bare because you feel the texture of what you touch. This happens because pressure sensors cover the suit's surface and active structure covers its lining: the glove feels the shape of whatever you touch - and the detailed pattern of pressure it exerts - and transmits the same texture pattern to your skin. It also reverses the process, transmitting to the outside the detailed pattern of forces exerted by your skin on the inside of the glove. Thus the glove pretends that it isn't there, and your skin feels almost bare.

The suit has the strength of steel and the flexibility of your own body. If you reset the suit's controls, the suit continues to match your motions, but with a difference. Instead of simply transmitting the forces you exert, it amplifies them by a factor of ten. Likewise, when something brushes against you, the suit now transmits only a tenth of the force to the inside. You are now ready for a wrestling match with a gorilla.

The fresh air you breathe may not seem surprising; the backpack includes a supply of air and other consumables. Yet after a few days outside in the sunlight, your air will not run out: like a plant, the suit absorbs sunlight and the carbon dioxide you exhale, producing fresh oxygen. Also like a plant (or a whole ecosystem), it breaks down other wastes into simple molecules and reassembles them into the molecular patterns of fresh, wholesome food. In fact, the suit will keep you comfortable, breathing, and well fed almost anywhere in the inner solar system.

What is more, the suit is durable. It can tolerate the failure of numerous nanomachines because it has so many others to take over the load. The space between the active fibers leaves room enough for assemblers and disassemblers to move about and repair damaged devices. The suit repairs itself as fast as it wears out.

Within the bounds of the possible, the suit could have many other features. A speck of material smaller than a pinhead could hold the text of every book ever published, for display on a fold-out screen. Another speck could be a "seed" containing the blueprints for a range of devices greater than the total the human race has yet built, along with replicating assemblers able to make any or all of them.

What is more, fast technical AI systems like those described in the last chapter could design the suit in a morning and have it built by afternoon.

The AI interrupts your visual cortex and imprints controls directly to your optical nerve. This could be described as a field of vision overlay. The AI interprets your actions via an organic control it has created in your brain. You think to press a destination and the AI actually makes your selection before your hand moves.

The time displacement effect as witnessed by observers looks like you glow and sparkle then wink out of reality. In actuality, the suit opens a you sized wormhole and you pass through it. You dont move, time does.

In this fashion, as long as you are in the AI nano suit you have the time machine. You cant lose it, it cant be stolen. This would take the time device out of the story as a plot device. It lets you focus on other story aspects. If your story is about the device, perhaps there is a reason that a traveler would remove the suit. Then it could be lost or stolen.

OK thats just one scenario...


Code Monkey
Staff member
I'd like to see a time machine device that for once takes into account the fact that the Earth is rotating in orbit around the sun and where you are physically at the moment of activating the device to go back to 1930-something, that in 1930-something the Earth might not be even close to the same physical location as to where you were originally let alone the fact that even if the Earth was in the same spot then it would still need to be taken into account its rotation on its axis.



Creative Writer
Carrying an object back in time you could lose or get found with is a problem.

Implanting homing circuitry under the skin that allows you to be "recalled" is my preferable idea. It means even if you die, you can be pulled back by the machine operators in the future to avoid your remains being found (your DNA would be different from those in the past due to various effects on the body like radiation, disease, inoculations, etc.) The device could be manually activated by the user with the right pressure/contact on it.

This sort of device would ensure no one jumps around in time and could ensure the operators in the future had more adequate control over its usage.
Thanks for the input so far.

@skwirlinator: I like the nanotech part of the suggestion... a display in your field of vision or even in your mind doesn't seem quite as far-fetched when you've had nano-constructs altering your body at the microscopic level. (In this case, far-fetched being relative to a story about time-travel...;))

@Kevin: I've actually considered this and my story will address it, although the story won't specifically say HOW the time-travel device accomplishes it, only that it does so the characters won't end up floating in the vacuum of space after they've used it.

@Tim: My device won't be "controlled" per se by anyone in the future. Basically it is created at some point far, far in the future and subsequently lost. By the time of my story (the 1930s and our present) it is implied that the device has already been used by an untold number of people for an unknown amount of time. Right now I don't know much about the beings who originally created the device, but I have a vague notion of perhaps one day exploring that in future sequels. The reader will not find out much about the origins of the device in this particular book.

@everyone: I'm still having trouble figuring out the method in which the characters actually use the time-travel device. It would be easier if I were relying on a "control room" (like in Quantum Leap, Terminator, or Timeline) but the way I've envisioned the story so far the device is basically a portable time machine that you could carry around with you. I'm not too interested in explaining (at this point) HOW the device works but rather the PROCESS the user has to go through to use the device.


An Old Friend
Opening a wormhole is going to need lots of energy. Perhaps there is an element or certain 'field' the user must access to provide the power. Thus, the user must seek out the element as the first step to activating the device.
Stepping away from direct AI-Human brain interfaces, The user must then find a reflective surface on which to project the control interface. A mirror, reflecting glass or even the surface of a lovers eyes. However, any imperfections in the reflection will skew the settings.
Once the settings and power requirements are locked, the user must bring together a set of crystals that opens the rift and step thru the opening.
Inside the wormhole the user experiences the time passing as a blast of experiences that constitutes the passage of the allocated time but it occurs in a very short time (from a nanosecond to a half a minute). Upon emerging in the destination the user is briefly disorientated by the experience. The crystals are then separated to close the gateway.


The user determines and sets the destination on his/her display and activates the device. A series of sonic tones are played on the handheld 'key' that disrupts the space-time constant and the wormhole opens. The user then steps into the alternate time like stepping thru a doorway. Another series of tones are generated to close the gate.


During the destination scans, the user must locate a reference that matches his or her volumetric displacement. Once the reference has been locked into the computation the user must capture and transfer their own mass while simultaneously transferring the the referenced mass and a switch is done. The user occupies the space of the reference and vice-versa. The referenced mass does not have to be a living entity. The most time consuming part of the process is the location of the reference mass because it must match the users mass exactly.

In Addition

The Control process might include;

-locating the exact instant of the destination time.
Since time flows smoothly from instant to instant the destination must be precise. The destination must also be a given amount of time after the selected instant. It takes time to step thru the gateway and arrive at the destination. That time must be accounted for. The gateway opens to a specific time. The user must predetermine when that gate will open and must be at the point at the exact time as set. Example: the gate is opening in 10 seconds user time - the user is moving at 50 mph. the gate must open at the spot where the user will be in 10 seconds at 50 mph or he misses the gate. (a bit too complex but time travel is not simple)

- Referencing a live display of the intended destination
The interface will need to reference realtime data of the destination to preclude the user from jumping into a hazard. Thus, the device must be able to reference the time stream to provide the user with the time settings. The user must select the destination from the referenced materials. This makes jump on the fly situations extremely difficult. However, the user might program multiple destinations into the device beforehand and acivate the destination from a speeddial feature on the device.

- Body preparation
Preparation must be taken to assure the user's body has enough food and water in their body to compensate for the jumping process. The longer the jump the more water and food that is used up. Short jumps cause you to feel hungry and thirsty. Longer jumps can cause dehydration and the burning of body fat. An unprepared long jump can kill the user from dehydration or starvation. This is why short jumps are preferred to allow the user to take in sustenance between jumps. Consuming huge amounts of food and water before a jump allows the user to set longer destinations.

-Iron Tolerance
The jumping process does not allow Iron (FE) to pass thru the gate. The field that surrounds the user during the jump process prevents the Iron in their blood from being left behind. However, Iron is not protected if there are open wounds that have blood exposed. The Iron in the exposed blood and surrounding area will be depleted after a jump. The more blood exposed on the user during a jump the more Iron that is lost.

-Interface activation and use
The control device is activated by a verbal password of grunts and squeals predetermined at the time the device is combined with the user. Upon integration of the device to the user the device records the sounds of the user and those become the password. The device only recognizes those sounds. So if the user shouts out 'Oh, Lordy Be!' then only by shouting out "Oh, Lordy Be" will the device initialize.
Once initialized the device then projects the interface onto the decided medium. There is a stream of data with physical information that streams along with a visual display of destinations like a fast forwarded video that can be paused or backed up. Match destinations are briefly paused and projected to the forefront at which time they are recorded for future selection. Non-match destinations continue to fast forward. When ten matches are found within the settings parameters they cycle thru as reference points until the only button on the device is pressed at the moment of the displayed reference. At that time the gate opens and the user is transferred to that destination. The device stays active until a destination is achieved and then shuts down. At that time the device clears the selection and the password must be uttered to start a new destination.


Writing Fool
I'd like to see a time machine device that for once takes into account the fact that the Earth is rotating in orbit around the sun and where you are physically at the moment of activating the device to go back to 1930-something, that in 1930-something the Earth might not be even close to the same physical location as to where you were originally let alone the fact that even if the Earth was in the same spot then it would still need to be taken into account its rotation on its axis.

Of course, if a civilization is advanced enough to design their own time machine devices, wouldn't they also have the equivalent of transporter technology? ;)


Code Monkey
Staff member
Of course, if a civilization is advanced enough to design their own time machine devices, wouldn't they also have the equivalent of transporter technology? ;)
But then that brings up a bunch of different issues as well unless it is a single device that transports you during the time travel process.

Simon Tall

Tall Englishman
You could try not having a device but a physical space that is somwhow connected between times/dimensions. Like a doorway between worlds. This, of course is more difficult to explain (a rift in a wormhole that only exists in the same physical space but links different times?) - you would probably have to take into account Kevins ideas (above) about the rotation of the Earth. But it could involve some fun ideas like walking out of a wall or a cupboard or appearing in the middle of a theatre full of people. Or maybe (as its set in America) on the field of a big baseball game.
The doorway would be the only way to travel between times and you would have to physically to the same place - how do you get back in if you cant see it? That could be fun.

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Simon Poore
Let me know what you think)

Simon Tall
Thanks for the suggestion, Simon. I actually did think about writing a story like that at some point... just having a "portal" that connects two different time periods. It seems a lot less convoluted than the explanation in the story I am planning. There are a lot of possibilities with the "time portal" idea. I may actually write something involving that one of these days.

However, for the story I am currently writing, I need to have a mobile time-travel device that the user can input the destination time. I am having trouble coming up with an interface for the device.

Simon Tall

Tall Englishman
Two more ideas:
1. A voice controlled virtual HUD display linked to a small time travel implant (maybe in the iris) ?
2. You could disguise your device as an object from the time you are travelling to - like a jewelry box or a brief case?

Was walking around and these ideas came to me - thoughht I would share.