Chirp sends information from one smartphone to another, using electronic birdsong

[Video Link] Nicolas Pergola of Chirp says

We're a spinout from University College London Computer Science and we've developed a new data transfer application for smartphones (and more) called Chirp.

This is our thing - a technology inspired by birdsong and the principles of biomimicry.

We think it's pretty exciting since the app has great potential, although it's just the tip of the iceberg. Our plans include teaching the machines to sing.


  1. Oh Gee; we’ve just reinvented the soft modem. All that’s really new about this is that they’re only using it to transfer a URI, with actual data transfer taking place via a backend webserver.

    Be sure to check how much security they’re promising on that backend server. They *could* encrypt, but I’m betting it hasn’t occurred to them to do so.

    1. I think it’s a cute idea and implementation, but yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Also it must require that the receiving device be actively processing sounds to receive it, which is just clunky.

      It solves no problem whatsoever, how they got spun out I don’t know.

  2. Signalling with audio tones? Why not run a modem through the speaker then you might get 56kb out of it.

  3. Sending data via electric signals through a wire? Isn’t that called “telegraphs”?

    Transmitting information with light? Why not just use heliographs?

    Communication with radio waves? Meh, they did a hundred years ago.

  4. Looks like they’re not transmitting much data.  Sort of like a QR code, they just chirp a link to the chirp server which the recipient can then go to.  And what happens when the chirp server is down?

    “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.”

  5. Sounds great until some avian mastermind uses our technology against us. Hiding in our bunkers, they’ll finally make a decisive strike on the world’s sunflower supply…

  6. I wrote a little program on the Apple II to play the answer tones to an acoustic modem across the room back in 1980. But more recently, I’ve had a 5 channel audio “chirping” app in the iOs app store for months now. It originally has a mosquito mode for transmitting with audio to high in pitch for us old timers to hear, but I brought down the frequency ranges somewhat. 

  7. Brilliant! If it works like a modem, then it gets a whole new meaning in the age of mobile phones. This adds new possibilities to the way we use existing technologies.

  8. To be fair, there is an interesting idea behind this, and some utility. While it doesn’t make much sense on a 1-to-1 basis (other tech is probably better) in a 1-to-many situation it actually makes sense. Rather than reading out a URL, gathering email addresses of a bunch of people in a room, etc this is a way to “broadcast” a bit of data like a picture or URL – think of it like an audio bitly or QR code, Sure, the situations where it might be handy are limited, but it isn’t completely pointless.

  9. Soon, our novel NEW technology will ASTOUND the world of MOBILE TELECOMMUNICATIONS.

    Introducing. . . SMELL-O-DATA.

  10. Oddly enough, I just popped in while taking a break from redesigning a device that actually *does* send pictures using sound, which is not a new thing at all.  I recently got to meet a couple of guys who pioneered the field of slow-scan television after WWII – truly impressive stuff when the only image storage available was in cathode ray tubes.   They were transferring low-resolution grayscale images in about 8 seconds back then.

    Designing a modem to sound pleasing to the ear does present some interesting challenges, but they’ve got the advantage of only needing to send a few bytes of data at a time.  A dozen bytes would be enough for as large a database of URLs as you’d ever need, with room for error detection and correction.  Presumably they’re using FSK with tones selected to not sound too harsh.

    Calling it biomimicry is purely a marketing ploy.  It’s a modem, and not a particularly novel one from the sound of it.

    EDIT: I just checked over their technical summary, and to their credit they’re not trying to pass it off as something it’s not, and they’re pretty open with the details. It’s basically early 1960s technology, but making it work easily with MIDI sequencers is kind of clever.

  11. You all laugh now, just wait until Rumblefish claims ownership of your chirp.

    *waits for you to go work the Google because this is a trip down memory lane*

  12. it doesn’t have to be new technology to be cool.  re-purposing old and out-dated protocols and tech to work on our new toys with a new story behind it can be a wonderful thing.  i saw chirp a few days ago and it started a whole conversation about transferring data thought sound, which of course turned into an educative discussion about the history of computing.

    anything that can evoke a sense of wonder is fine by me! :)

  13. This is totally, totally brilliant. 

    Nobody seems to have noticed you can download the app and ‘chirp’ pictures to your phone from the video. 

    Seriously cool idea – doors blown open.

  14. I have been ‘chirping’ a bit with people at the office. Imagine it working to ‘broadcast’ data over the phone or radio, etc.

  15. All the haters are missing a trick: get an aviary of lyre birds, and use them as intermediaries.

    You’d be living in a Game of Thrones / Web 9.0 crossover-dreamworld in no time.

  16. I like the idea for transmitting data to groups — you could play something like this over a loudspeaker and distribute a link to anyone within earshot. 

    Though, of course they’d all have to have the app and you may get more of an audience by just saying a human rememberable link… but the idea is cute. 

  17. I hope the rest of it is better than their understanding of Bluetooth.  They claim: “Unlike Bluetooth, Chirp doesn’t require you to pair devices”  That would make more sense if it said: “Just like Bluetooth, Chirp doesn’t require you to pair devices”.
    Bluetooth only requires pairing if you want to allow the other device to browse or control your device.  If all you want to do is send a file then the recipient simply accepts it.  Of course, they seem to be Apple fans so they probably don’t understand how easy Bluetooth is for the rest of the world.  One of my colleagues took a picture of me with his iPhone and offered to send it to me, I said “Go ahead, my mobile’s Bluetooth id is x” but he couldn’t do that, he could only email it to me.

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