Data-by-sound startup Chirp releases developer kit, starts crowdfunding


London startup Chirp, which develops software that lets devices send and receive data with brief melodic tweedles, yesterday released a set of developer tools to spur the creation of what it calls “an Internet made of sound.”

The company also announced the start of a £400,000 ($630,000) fundraising campaign using crowdsourced investment platform CrowdCube. The U.K. government’s London Co-Investment Fund has pledged an additional £100,000 ($157,000) if Chirp meets its goal.

Chirp’s technology translates short strings of data into an encoded alphabet of electronic birdsong that includes 32 semitone pitches. Encoding and decoding is done locally by each device, so an Internet connection is not required for the basic exchange—just a speaker and microphone. Transmission length is limited, however. You might be able to squeeze in a Tweet-length text message, but not the 2 gigabytes of a shared photo. For that you would need an Internet connection on both ends, so the sending device can upload the photo to the web and Chirp out a short URL that the receiving device can download on its own.

On the other hand, if the sending device is just linking to stuff that lives on the web already, it can get by without its own connection as long as the URLs can be programmed in ahead of time. That makes it an interesting technology for the Internet of Things, as it would essentially be able to turn any non-connected device into an audio beacon—chirping out its physical presence in sound, and letting nearby devices discover its digital identity using their own network connections.

The Chirp software has been in the wild since 2012 in the form of iOS and Android apps. With the new software development kit, it can also run on Arduinohardware and the Spark Core. Between the community interest that those tools will generate and the cash the company hopes to raise on CrowdCube, Chirp will soon be looking at ways to commercialize the platform and make good on its promise to “teach the machines to sing.”

Related: Previous Chirp Postscapes coverage