Next big thing: could Chirp transform how we send data?

27 Jul 2012

Chirp is a sound wave technology that has to be seen in technology to be believed. But it has the potential to be one of latest great things in technology in terms of being a mechanism for sending media and even money.

The iPhone app built by UK company Animal Systems uses sound waves – called Chirps – to send photos, notes and web links to other iOS devices.

Literally using the power of sound it can instantaneously transmit a large photo from an iPhone to another iPhone or iPad. An Android version is understood to be in the works.

The potential of this is incredible. With Bluetooth, NFC or Wi-Fi, devices have to ‘handshake’ or be aware of one another in order to transmit data like photos or business cards.

But with Chirp the sound wave – a digital birdsong, if you will – could be used to send a photo or other data to a multitude of devices in the same room or within hearing distance of the ‘Chirp’.

“Devices that were previously not connected to the internet can now be used to send information over the air,” explains CEO and founder, Patrick Bergel.

I had great fun yesterday taking photos and transmitting them to my iPad using a sound not too dissimilar from R2-D2, the droid in Star Wars.

Once you hit a big yellow button special algorithms take over and re-encode the data as a ‘Chirp’ and any iOS device in listening range will get the file.


Animal Systems explains the science behind Chirp in their FAQs: “You can think of a chirp as a tiny piece of music. Each chirp lasts about two seconds. The system listens out for a couple of dozen notes played rapidly in a certain order, within a certain range, at a certain speed. The audio engine tries to decode the sequence of notes into a sequence of letters, which our server understands. The server then returns a link to the user so they can go wherever the short code points: to a webpage, say. This decode all happens in real-time on your phone.”

More information about the science behind Chirp can be accessed in this technical introduction.

This is an incredibly fun and versatile technology that Chirp’s creators say will work in crowded, noisy places.

It has a myriad of potential applications, such as advertising, financial transactions and multimedia marketing engagement at public events or via social media. Imagine street and city-wide video games where ‘Chirps’ unlock clues … OK, my imagination is running wild with this one, but I’m not the only one.

“Music could soon start transmitting things like PDFs, movies or text files,” says musician and sonic pioneer Matthew Herbert, recently appointed creative director of the New Radiophonic Workshop, and now an adviser to the Chirp team. “That’s extraordinary to me. Way more exciting than anything I can do as a musician.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years