A new technology called Chirp, recently developed at UCL Department of Computer Science spinout Animal Systems, and based on ‘digital birdsong’ now allows for the sharing of data through audio. Using sound to encode short links to information is a very widely-deployable technology since many existing consumer devices (from PA systems to TVs) can relay and play audio. And since the data encoded in ‘chirps’ is transmitted as sound, it can also be received by many devices simultaneously and then locally decoded, without the need for a network connection.

The distinctive sound of Chirp has been carefully engineered to work at low volumes, even in noisy places, and therefore to be reliable over short ranges, as well as to sound pleasing to the ear. The project was initially funded by a UCL Business Proof of Concept award, and the company was founded by Professor Anthony Steed and Patrick Bergel from UCL Department of Computer Science.

Professor Steed says: “Because we use simple human-range audio to communicate short references to data on networks, we can use all sort of simple devices as communication relays. We have already coded Chirps as ringtones for dumb phones, and we have embedded Chirps in YouTube videos.” The startup has ambitious plans for the future, including licensing the technology platform to other software and hardware developers so it can be used on devices much simpler and cheaper than mobile phones. As well as sending consumer information device-to-device, Chirp could also be used for transactions such as the use of discount vouchers or even electronic payments.

Just one example of how research at UCL Computer Science could change the world.

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