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In Star Trek: The Next Generation, DS9, and Voyager, it seems common for officers to touch their communicators to initiate a conversation but it's unclear when the person on the other side stops listening and can't hear them.

Granted sometimes it's as simple as a verbal close ("Picard Out", "Acknowledge Enterprise") but other times, the characters will just stop talking to the remote party and resume another conversation with someone nearby.

Is there an in-universe explanation for how this technology terminates a long-range conversation? Are communicators using AI to determine whether or not a given conversation is relevant? Or is it assumed that the remote party is manually terminating the conversation?

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    My memory may be fuzzy, but I seem to recall the use of combadge-tapping to be very inconsistent in general. – Iszi Jan 21 '13 at 20:04
  • @Iszi Yup. I agree. I seem to recall instances where a character would simply look up and say "<character name> to Enterprise..." – Mike B Jan 21 '13 at 20:50
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    Heh. "Look up" as if they need to project their voice upwards, instead of into the mic that's in their combadge - good point. – Iszi Jan 21 '13 at 21:01
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    Easy. The combadges read the script. The same way the sentient doors know whether a person is actually about to try to pass through them (so they need to open) instead of about to turn around to say one more thing to the other person in the room. – user22502 Sep 14 '16 at 13:17
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According to The Star Trek wiki:

[Combadges] were activated by tapping them once and deactivated by tapping them twice. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; TNG: "The Game"; DS9: "Move Along Home", "Past Tense, Part II") (Note: the EMH of USS Voyager used this technique not to deactivate his combadge, but to gain the attention of the ship's crew.) (VOY: "Caretaker")

They were apparently intended to be double-tapped to be deactivated in the official canon, and there are some instances of them being tapped (once or twice) that offer evidence to this. I would assume that the (many) instances where this does not occur are simply mistakes.

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    Or maybe the other side simply hung up :) – E.T. Jan 20 '13 at 10:41
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    Maybe they could be calibrated to different modes out of personal preference and the wiki is just the default mode? – ewanm89 Feb 24 '13 at 12:21
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I would assume that, in the absence of any ongoing communication and with no explicit deactivation signal, the com badge would simply time out after (say) ten seconds. If necessary, this time-out could be overridden at the other end by the Communications officer.

Note that there are some things which would often help prevent the com badge from timing out prematurely. One is that those using the badge often speak in a louder voice over the com than not, so the badge can key off of the ambient speech volume. Also, by that time in history, the badge would undoubtedly contain enough sophisticated hardware and software that it could monitor the ambient speech and categorize which utterances are intended for the com and which for persons in the speaker's immediate vicinity, and understand what is said well enough to figure out that the com conversation is over.

  • Why the downvotes? While this is only a personal opinion it contains a good guess on how they might work in-universe. The double-tap of the other answer does not seem to be followed through so it's not like there is a clear explanation. – problemofficer Jun 5 '17 at 12:22
  • @ploblemofficer I agree with you, there are a number of times a double tap is not done and the com still closes. The ships AI's ability to workout the persons intentions is the only way to rectify the inconsistency, I've up-voted as although speculative it isn't a bad answer – Matt Jul 10 '17 at 18:22

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