As a company borne out of a computer science research lab, a key part of Chirp’s ethos is a focus on experimentation and R&D. My job as Chief Science Officer is to oversee our long-term research objectives — exploring new ground in how sound can be harnessed as a medium for carrying information.
But we punctuate this longer-term trajectory with bursts of rapid prototyping and exploratory development, hacking micro-projects that use Chirp in new and interesting scenarios. These are sometimes freeform and exploratory, and sometimes with a focus on our partners’ real-world needs. Taking place over hours, days or weeks, our hack days are complementary to long-term research — though they often produce results so promising that they reshape our longer-term roadmap.
Introducing regular hack days has had a number of tangible benefits for us. It means that we’re regularly eating our own dogfood, testing out the boundaries of our own technology and seeing where we can make improvements.
It kicks our collective imaginations up a notch or two, fostering collaborations and creative leaps that spill over into the daily working environment.
And, critically, it encourages us to reframe our work in real-world scenarios, putting aside the nuts and bolts of day-to-day engineering to focus on existing problems that we can help solve.
Sometimes this is small but persistent causes of frustration, like the ubiquitous niggle of entering Wi-Fi passwords. Sometimes, the problem space is much larger. In our latest hack sprint, we looked out into the wide world of the Internet of Things, building prototypes that give a voice to countless new kinds of objects.
Giving a voice to the Internet of Things
Chirp connects nearby devices by using acoustic signals to transmit information — anything within hearing range can receive the data. Until relatively recently, the notion of “nearby” was of little interest to network engineers: the networking protocols that the Internet is built upon are designed for routing over long-distance wired networks. (There are some interesting exceptions, such as packet radio.)
As it becomes more common to have lots of electronic devices dotted around the home and workplace, the landscape is quickly changing. There are often numerous electronic devices within hearing range, with different ages, computational sophistication, and networking capabilities. This results in numerous points of friction and incompatibility that we believe could be solved by audio-mediated communication.
We’ve thus been exploring how Chirp can be used to join the dots within the Internet of Things — creating a ubiquitous communication layer that we call the Internet of Sound. Without the headaches of pairing, the security risks of an always-on internet connection, and the requirements and incompatibilities of bleeding-edge radio comms protocols, sound becomes a powerful proposition for IoT.
We’ve made a number of new breakthroughs that we’ll be writing up early in the new year. In the meantime, here’s a quick work-in-progress video that showcases the first outcome of our “things hack” — fresh from the lab.
This is an exploration of how Chirp can integrate with robotics, acting as a remote control for physical machinery. Integrating a £30 robot arm with a Raspberry Pi running the Chirp Pi SDK (available for trial on request), we’ve developed an interface for frictionless control over mechanical operations. It’s a cute demo, but with a short path to major real-world impact: this is a proof of concept for a partner in the robotics world, who is investigating how Chirp can be used in the next generation of machine-to-machine communication.
We’ll be sharing more results and real-world applications of our IoT prototypes throughout early 2017. You can also catch us at London’s IoT Tech Expo, where we’ll be delivering a talk and panel discussion about the critical role that the Internet of Sound will play over the next decade. If you would like to meet us there, get in touch.