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Acoustic Barcodes from CMU
October 14, 2012 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon have created what they are calling "acoustic barcodes". These barcodes can be decoded by a computer with a microphone attached, and their video presents several potential use cases including an interactive whiteboard, cell phone mode controls, and children's toys.
posted by eak (22 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
They should put these on hand sanitizer dispensers as an activation mechanism.
posted by pmbuko at 10:07 PM on October 14, 2012


Seems like an obvious idea. I mean, you can decode modem tones to make data, right? Just use the same principle, but with a low data rate and speakers instead of a phone line. Probably the filtering technology is the big advance, since otherwise random noise would make it hard for the system to work.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:23 PM on October 14, 2012


Barcodes are the bane of small business. I hate them.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:26 PM on October 14, 2012


Mitrovarr, there is no speaker.
posted by ryanrs at 10:30 PM on October 14, 2012


I'm going to get rich selling sponsored corduroy pants whose wearers continually broadcast spam URLs whenever they walk.
posted by hattifattener at 10:57 PM on October 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


It would probably help to read the link. I guess I kind of figured they were doing a sound packet data transfer scheme, because I've always wondered why they didn't do that.

Still, once I read the paper, I think they are kind of grasping to find applications for this technology. Most of their examples would be equally well served or better by using visual barcodes or just plain writing on things. This would have been a whole lot more useful before every single device got a camera on it, but now I'm just not sure what applications it'll have.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:00 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I must say I was glad to see it was a technology that needs to be triggered to be effective. There's enough crap floating around my sensorium, audibly and visually, in an average day as to seriously harsh my zen.
posted by Samizdata at 11:13 PM on October 14, 2012


Wasn't there a startup that launched something like this a few months back? Their prime use case was exchanging info in bars - it would be used the way infrared setups are on phones that have them, except it wasn't really directional and was designed to work over background noise.
posted by 23 at 11:23 PM on October 14, 2012


23: Wasn't there a startup that launched something like this a few months back?
I immediately thought of this
Chirp is an incredible new way to share your stuff – using sound. Chirp sings information from one iPhone to another.

Share photos, webpages, contacts: all from your built-in speaker.

Anything's possible: what will you chirp?
posted by ob1quixote at 11:34 PM on October 14, 2012


23: There's an iOS app called Chirp that exchanges data between devices by sound. But this idea -- generating the sound mechanically by strumming across a series of ridges -- is much simpler.
posted by logopetria at 11:35 PM on October 14, 2012


[CueCat joke]
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:40 PM on October 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


This sounds like it's one step closer to "Corporate America" legislating that I don't have the rights to my own voice.

And speaking as a guy who has made money from it, that terrifies me.
posted by Sphinx at 12:52 AM on October 15, 2012


I have to say, I went into that video being very skeptical but I ended up loving it. How stupid is it to embed electronics in everything, increasing cost and complexity (not to mention fragility wrt things like batteries, cable interfaces and OS support) and then throw it away? This idea decouples the "embedded info" concept from the electronic implementations.
posted by DU at 4:08 AM on October 15, 2012


(Warning: FAULTY MEMORY AHEAD, PLEASE ELIDE DETAILS)

The startup chime of Apple Macs in the late 80s or early 90s were a pleasing chord, but when the POST detected a hardware problem it would alter some or all of the notes, resulting in a discordant squawk. I loved that, and I always wished more devices incorporated this technique.

I heard tell that some wonks could decipher the faulty parts just by listening to the chord, but that always seemed beyond most normal people. I mean, I can tell when something sounds wrong, but I may not know what right is. And that makes me think that most people don't have enough discrimination in our hearing to properly decode specific tones, so I guess this scheme would only work with a mechanical aid.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:44 AM on October 15, 2012


I heard tell that some wonks could decipher the faulty parts just by listening to the chord, but that always seemed beyond most normal people.

...imagine how many people could if they'd put in beep codes.
posted by jaduncan at 7:06 AM on October 15, 2012


wenestvedt: "I heard tell that some wonks could decipher the faulty parts just by listening to the chord, but that always seemed beyond most normal people. I mean, I can tell when something sounds wrong, but I may not know what right is. And that makes me think that most people don't have enough discrimination in our hearing to properly decode specific tones, so I guess this scheme would only work with a mechanical aid."

I think you're conflating beep codes with the Sad Mac sound.

My dishwasher has an audio diagnostic feature. You can call support and push a button, and the chime it makes will give a diagnostic report to the manufacturer. It also plays cute little songs when it turns on and when it's done.
posted by mkb at 7:56 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, the Sad Mac sound, which later included the noise of a car crash.

And mkb, I think your talking dishwasher (or rather, the Screaming Out Its Pain Dishwasher) is an awesome thing. A self-documenting system, with no need for faulty, untrustworthy Users -- hurray! The spontaneous music, like all busking, is probably best left ignored.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:10 AM on October 15, 2012


Some early UK computers had a speaker and amp built into the cabinet, and engineers could start to diagnose faults by listening to various buses. Not so easy these days, but you can still hear interesting things going on by putting an AM radio next to a computer. There'll be some software process with the right structure to get the bus putting out energy in that spectrum - but it works best with 8-bit systems with a clock rate in the low MHz.
posted by Devonian at 9:29 AM on October 15, 2012


This is how modems work. Digital source converted to analog sound which is then re-converted to digital. It even sounds like a modem (at very slow speed.. 10 baud?)
posted by stbalbach at 10:36 AM on October 15, 2012


[CueCat joke]

This is a CueCat meets Rube Goldberg scenario. There was no example they showed that wouldn’t work better with a regular barcode, button, or just printed words, besides just being simpler.
posted by bongo_x at 2:17 PM on October 15, 2012


POST tones in IBM PCs and compatibles in the 80s could tell you a lot about what was wrong. Good thing too because often what was wrong was something that kicked in before video so the speaker was the only source of information.
posted by Mitheral at 2:23 PM on October 15, 2012


I use an "audio barcode" almost every day for work and it is a great convenience that could not be achieved visually.
After wiring someone up with a wireless lavalier microphone the transmitter is often hidden away somewhere not easily accessible in their clothes while the microphone itself is of course up around their neck, behind a shirt or two and able to hear everything said by the wearer and whatever ambient sound is loud enough.
To turn the transmitter off or on or to make adjustments to the frequency used or mic sensitivity was always a hassle. I recently got an iPhone app that makes "dweedle" tones very similar to modem sounds which can adjust all these things. (Well it actually puts the transmitter to "sleep" or "unsleep" rather than shutting off completely but the point is it saves battery when not in use.)
This is a pretty small market I guess but since I already sound like a sales rep (I most definitely am not) I won't link directly to this stuff here. Anyone interested can look for "Lectrosonics RM" to see the hardware version made by the company or "Lectro RM" for the independently created app to see how it works.
I can also report that the first thing some people do when I explain what the noise is for is to immediately start trying to vocally imitate it to change all the settings and mess with me but this has never been successful. Listening to them try can be hilarious though so I appreciate the effort.
All that said I like the physical version in the link, the combination of simplicity and high-tech.
Also it reminds me of the grooved road music things which I know Metafilter has talked about before.
posted by zoinks at 3:27 PM on October 15, 2012


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