5G SHARP Data-over-sound software for the IoT

As the world becomes more data driven, the senses are no longer relied upon to give us the information we need. That is, until now: audio enters the ring, sounding the klaxon for a change in data transfer methods. James Nesfield, CEO of Chirp, discusses data-over-sound’s applicability


chieving secure and frictionless connectivity has been a technological bottleneck for anyone wanting to make effective use of the ever-growing pool of smart devices in the IoT age. From the most robust, industrial-grade equipment to consumer appliances, emerging devices must be able to communicate payloads of information in order to function effectively.

As engineers look to enable the interconnection of millions of devices, audio-based data transfer presents an alternative medium for encouraging scalable connectivity between devices across a range of environments.

DATA-OVER-SOUND 101 Chirp is capitalising on its possibilities, exploiting the fundamental properties of sound to architect data-over-sound technology, a machine-to-machine communications software that enables any device with a loudspeaker or microphone to exchange data through sound waves. In practice, data is encoded into a series of audible or ultrasonic pitches and tones to form a ‘sonic barcode’. This is then transmitted (over air, by a VoIP stream or over wired telephone lines) to any receiving device that can process audio, where it is then demodulated. The affordances of sound can be leveraged to achieve fast, secure and cost-effective ultrasonic connectivity for modern devices. Sound as a medium is far reaching and available for use by machines and devices of different platforms, form factors and architectures; it’s compatible for devices with a microphone, speaker and

12 JULY/AUGUST 2019 | ELECTRONICS processor.

Embedding and extracting data from applications in this way presents an alternative connective proposition for device manufacturers, when compared to the likes of near-field communication (NFC). By utilising existing hardware and working without prior configurations,

working without prior configurations, there is no need to re-engineer ashere is no need t a network of applications grows.

a network of applications grows. Sound could be a vehicle for enhancing user experiences, without increasing the bill of materials.

ENABLING VERSATILE DATA TRANSMISSION One of the questions most frequently asked of acoustic data transmission is its level of security. As acoustic connections

sound is very versatile; through a range of frequencies, it can be robust to background noise. With this in mind, the possibilities for sound can extend from basic consumer settings to the most extreme and noisy environments, such as busy urban streets or RF-restricted areas.


CONNECTIVITY SOLUTION The concept of sending data with sound is still very much emerging and its full potential is yet to be realised. Nevertheless, technologies that are applying the properties of audio to the needs of the connectivity ecosystem now offer complementary capabilities, when placed alongside other, well-established forms of wireless connectivity.

forms of wireless connectivity. For example, its position as a pairing-free, one-to-many medium means that it can mitigate some of the setup

medium means that it can mitigate some of the setup and provisioning pain points often associated with traditional alternatives, presenting a versatile

frictionless data transmission that enhances the end-

general purpose solution for frictionless data transmission that enhances the end-

security. As acoustic connections do not require an internet

connection, and support industry-

connection, and support industry- standard cryptography,

audio can be used to ensure that any data transferred is not compromised; no audio (not even audio metadata) is stored or sent from a receiving device for processing.

Sound also presents advantages by

way of scalability. The medium can be engineered to act peer-to-peer, or one-to-many, without requiring any additional connections to the cloud or other network services. Whether the aim is to enable seamless P2P exchanges, or send data from one-to-many, this method of device-to-device connectivity can be made entirely scalable. These properties afford sound to work effectively in situations where no other network access is available. Additionally,

suited to the IoT landscape for device manufacturers and hobbyist developers alike, by presenting new ways to simplify connections between a variety of applications, from mobile handsets to the popular voice assistants of today. The future of connectivity lies in

user experience. These sameuser experience. These same affordances make sound well suited to the IoT landscape for device manufacturers and hobbyist developers alike, by presenting new ways

utilising a broad range of solutions, including data-over-sound, where each technology’s features support one another. Inevitably, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ data transfer solution that will be optimal for all use cases. Yet, working in tandem with other solutions, sound has the means to act as an integral component for delivering the ubiquitous, frictionless connectivity needed to support modern devices.


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