Q&A: Data transfer via sound doesn’t mean death of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

Could moving data via sound help your business? Chirp technology has the answer

Chirp is a technology company which sends data via sound. Founded in 2011, the website explains it “encodes data into a series of audible or inaudible near-ultrasonic pitches and tones to form a “sonic barcode”. Data is encoded on a sending device before being transmitted, over the air, to a receiving device, or group of devices where it is decoded.” Moran Lerner, CEO of Chirp answers a few questions.

How did the idea for this technology come about?

The idea behind the technology came out of years of research by a group of computer scientists and acoustic technologists at University College London. Their focus was to understand gaps in connectivity between machines whilst “humanising” the interaction. Their research was focused on allowing interactive communications between machine and machine and human to machine.

Is anyone else doing anything similar?

In the exact space that Chirp are involved in, we were the first to develop and productise the technology. Since launching back in 2011, several companies have tried to replicate the technology and its use. Almost all of these companies have focused solely on the inaudible frequencies of sound, and that has become quite a crowded space. Those companies have developed their technologies to work across only smartphone and tablet devices, which is quite a small segment of a much larger and wider sector of data over sound. The fact they also focus on just ultrasonic data transmission means they have limited the segment in which they operate even further.

You mentioned in one of your videos that “you’re not trying to compete with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi”—in what business scenarios would this really come into its own?

It is easy to think that data over sound is a great replacement for current standard technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LTE or NFC, and several players in our space heavily promote how it’s the “death of Wi-Fi, NFC” and the like. But when you actually understand the physics and characteristics of sound, you realise it is a completely different type of connectivity technology.

Sure, there are a number of scenarios where sound is better than Bluetooth, or NFC, or even QR codes, especially in some industrial manufacturing settings where RF technologies are restricted or prohibited for reasons of interference with RF frequencies, or where there may be potentially explosive materials used. It is quite a large market here, and Chirp is already widely used in this space.

But when it comes to other more mainstream scenarios, other tech is actually better suited. So we carefully assess whether Chirp is better than other technologies for a specific solution or whether it is best used just to complement other technologies, such as instant and seamless login to a Wi-Fi network (as in this video with Uber to login in to their network creating a Wi-Fi hotspot in every taxi).

We are experts in the field of sound and in our technology, and for us it is most important that our clients use the best technology for their specific use case rather than sell them Chirp just to make a quick buck, knowing something else may be better suited.

Have any uses surprised you?

Absolutely. We get surprised all the time in fact. There are literally unlimited things one can conceive to use Chirp for, across every sector, and we constantly get surprised when our clients and partners come to us with killer ideas that are genius. We know our technology, and are very good at educating our clients and partners in how it works. They understand their respective sectors, and by merging the two understandings, they quickly find dozens of new uses for Chirp. We probably have a dozen new ideas come to us a day, each exciting and each easily translatable to other sectors or clients. The portability of sound is one of its most attractive aspects.

There appear to have been a lot of industry/vertical use cases for this, but it is it ever likely to become a truly ubiquitous type of technology (like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi)? And if so how might it help the average IT manager?

Taking as an example, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; these technologies have been growing over the last two decades to reach the level of ubiquity they enjoy today. Sound is relatively new, and most of the players in this space focus on less than a handful of uses which has left an enormous untapped market. But the ubiquity of sound is growing exponentially each year, with more and more companies developing products and solutions around these technologies. So, though this tech is still at a fledgling stage compared to others, it is certainly well on its way to becoming ubiquitous for the benefit of IT managers and developers in all sectors, and at the current rate will be right up there with the other tech soon enough.

The one thing I will say is that to truly be of benefit to developers and IT managers worldwide, we have to be a technology that is both relevant, interoperable and compatible with all other technologies. IoT for example is an ecosystem of a multitude of platforms and technologies that will need to coexist and work together to the common good. We go out of our way to work closely with other tech, which is how we developed our wide suite of platform-compatible SDKs. Where we are the best suited tech, we do it. Where we need to be part of many, even just a small element, we are more than happy to be. It is this nonsensical drive to replace and remove every other technology around that takes away a lot of the true benefits of sound, and is usually born out of companies with little understanding of how sound, and the other technologies actually work.

What will it take for this to happen?

In truth, just more of the same of what we are doing now and a little bit more time for it to evolve and prove itself across more sectors and use cases. It is still early days, and growing rapidly, but there is still some way to go before it becomes that mainstream tech sitting alongside others.

What other innovative ways can sound be used to solve real world business problems?

From interactive toys [video] to secure authentication, ticketing for transport, gaming, broadcast, robotics, industrial diagnostics, home automation, education (Chirp is widely used in classrooms all over the world today), advertising and promotions, loyalty, payments and other financial services. The list just goes on and on.

Are there any other new or less talked about technologies you’re particularly interested in at the minute?

Personally, I am also heavily involved with my other companies in nanotechnologies, voice technology, computational and artificial intelligence, and MEMS tech. I am also quite interested in quantum computing as I do see that as the next generation we will be living in.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

One thing I will end with is that Chirp has just scratched the surface of what our technology is both capable of, and will be involved in. What is coming in the next few months will take Chirp to an entirely new level. So watch this space. Exciting times ahead.

This story, "Q&A: Data transfer via sound doesn’t mean death of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi" was originally published by IDG Connect.


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