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The technique of hiding control signals in sound has been developed by Scientific Generics, based at Harston near Cambridge. "We can use the existing infrastructure, putting data in TV sound, over a public address system or a music CD, or in an e-mail or an MP3 file," says Ian Hosking. The company is patenting the technique, which it calls "intrasonics".
The idea of controlling devices with sound is not new. Some early television remote controls emitted ultrasonic bleeps. But they were unreliable. Traffic noise could switch off the television, and the ultrasound often upset household pets.
In the new system, coded control signals are spread over a wide range of frequencies, but they are too faint to be audible on a normal domestic sound system. The technique is adapted from spread spectrum technology, which the military developed for more secure radio communications.
The toy needs little more than the ability to decode the signals and to respond to them. "The receiver is just a microphone, battery and single-chip decoder, which costs very little," says Hosking. "There is nothing to plug in or set up. I call it plonk and play."
Acoustic control is an alternative to wireless and infrared remote control. Unlike the frequencies used by radio remote controls, which are licensed by the government, anyone can use sound frequencies. And low-frequency sound is less likely to be blocked by pieces of furniture than infrared. The technology can be used with ultrasound at frequencies of up to 100 kilohertz.
To demonstrate the technology, Scientific Generics has made a toy that joins in with action on the television. In addition to the entertainment potential of a toy that acts out the part of cartoon characters, the company says the technique has potential as a powerful educational tool. Retailers could also use it. The soothing background music in your local superstore could be changing prices on smart labels attached to goods on the shelves.
The company's patent application also talks of using coded sound from four beacons to control the position of a remotely operated vehicle. The patent says that vehicle's position can be fixed with an accuracy of 1 metre. The same system, using ultra-sonic frequencies, could also guide divers underwater.Author: Barry Fox
PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS STORY AND, IF PUBLISHING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A HYPERLINK TO : http://www.newscientist.com
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