SonicNotify: The inaudible QR codes your smartphone can hear


February 8, 2012

A new technology from startup SonicNotify will allow your smartphone to provide context-sensitive information by detect high frequencies pitches inaudible to the human ear (Photo: Marco Lazzaroni)

A new technology from startup SonicNotify will allow your smartphone to provide context-sensitive information by detect high frequencies pitches inaudible to the human ear (Photo: Marco Lazzaroni)

A new startup called SonicNotify has developed a technology that will enable smartphone apps to receive data via high frequency sound inaudible to the human ear. Though limited, the signals would be sufficient to transmit, say, a web address that could be automatically opened by your smartphone. These frequencies could be embedded into any audio being played through a speaker, and provide contextual information to the user. So, museums and art galleries could effectively transmit detailed information on their exhibits via their apparently silent PA systems. The cliche applies, I'm afraid: the possibilities are unending.

Other applications spring irresistibly to mind. At a rock concert, your phone might automatically load a web page with additional information such as a set lists or lyrics to the current song being performed. In fact, SonicNotify are producing disposable speakers (or "notifiers") for just such events. Talk radio shows could broadcast a signal leading users to a contact page where they can unload their Earth-moving insights. Your ideas for possible applications of the technology are doubtless better.

If you're familiar with QR codes, you will not have failed to spot the similarity. But QR codes have drawbacks which SonicNotify deftly sidesteps. There's no need to see the code (in fact, a visual medium isn't required), and there's no need to point your camera at anything, or faff about with photographs and QR code readers. SonicNotify's technology is as simple as launching the app.

Those interested can give the technology a test drive by downloading a free app, Sonic Experiences, for either iPhone or Android, and navigating to the demos section of the SonicNotify website. By playing the videos embedded on the demos page while the app was running on my smartphone, I was able to view additional content on my phone having done nothing more than launch the app. Okay so the demo content may not be all that compelling, but that isn't the point. That it works, is. Handily, the app seems to queue up a list of content you're accessing as it listens, rather than replacing the last piece of bonus material with that which it's currently hearing, so users shouldn't miss out on information - provided apps that eventually use this technology handle data the same way, that is.

The technology is set to be given a more vigorous heave-ho at next week's New York Fashion Week, where smartphone-wielders will be able to view photos of models and outfits on their devices. It may sound odd to attend a live event only to look at still photos of the models and outfits on a small screen instead of the infinite splendor of real world 3D, but it might be handy to review outfits once models have left the catwalk. Because different speakers can transmit different frequencies, one's location in a venue could conceivably affect which information is accessible - reverse angle replays at sports venues spring to mind.

Hopefully the greater ease which SonicNotify can present users with information will inspire more imaginative uses than those to which the QR code is typically put. The few occasions when I have reached for the QR reader have generally resulted in my inadvertently succumbing to an opportunity to be advertised at. Without imagination, this may merely provide yet another imperative for us to watch screens.

Product page: Sonic Notify via

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

Because life isn\'t annoying enough.

Zukey Badtouch

I can see this becoming mandatory for all recording devices. Add this to the audio during a concert or movie and all devices that are forcibly equipped with this tech would be disabled or if they are looking for a revenue stream rather than prevention they could have the device automatically send a notification directly to the RIAA/MPAA attorneys so they can prosecute the bootlegger.


And this is different to WiFi, or Bluetooth, or infra-red how?

It\'s just another medium to send bytes. It requires protocols and security and authentication and so on just like all the other mediums.

It\'s basically a pointless proof-of-concept.


Really bad idea! Ask yourself these questions: What is the frequency range of a normal mobile phone mic? Maybe 20Hz to 20kHz if your lucky. What\'s the frequency range of the human ear? It\'s about the same. So if we then suddenly have devices transmitting information via pressure waves at 20kHz, children will be screaming, dogs will be barking all the time, insects will be driven away from urban environments (good by pollination). The more you think about it the worse of an idea it is. Creating a open electro magnetic frequency would be a far more sensible idea.

Euan Dykes

Euan: I just tried the demos and Android app and confirmed what you suspect. In fact, I can hear the \"QR\" better than my phone (Galaxy Nexus) can (My hearing tests out okay up to about 19.5kHz, putting me about even with most teenagers who haven\'t killed their high range, but I have seen people keep going up to about 21kHz). Add that the App FC\'d on me twice and has pretty poor options - well, let\'s just say that I think any investors in this would be best off pulling out now and browsing Gizmag for something a little more worthwhile. It is a good thought, but not very well planned.

It would have been artistic at least to embed audible range transmission into low amplitude ambient or \"white\" noise. While I can see that this would distort a concert or movie beyond usefulness, it would at least have been a cool way to add content without having to pull out a scanning device, feel like I\'m next to a malfunctioning fire alarm.

Charles Bosse

Our company had similar idea and did some research into it .The High frequency idea is a bad one. We are now trying to do it another way with minimum variation to original sound. still a tough nut to crack :(

Midhun Babu
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