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The hottest wireless technology is now sound!

Mike Elgan | Dec. 22, 2014
Lately there's been a surge of innovations that harness sound waves to transmit data and do other creative things. Here's what's going on.


Proximity marketing is when marketing content is transmitted wirelessly to people in a specific location. The trouble is, it's hard to have universal standards and get people connected to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth in, say, a store or a mall.

That's where Signal360 comes in. Its technology supports proximity marketing via sound.

Signal360's patented technology is designed to transmit marketing messages via sound. Through any speaker. For example, it can broadcast coupons over a store's PA system. It can transmit over TV commercials or through small speakers specific to a tiny aisle in a store.

Here's another neat trick: Signal360 can transmit code during a TV commercial or radio spot that's picked up by an app on your phone, which notifies the advertisers that you, specifically, have heard their commercials. With Signal360, an advertiser can then track you and determine that after hearing its radio spot, say, 12 times and seeing its TV commercial 30 times, you walked into a store and, after receiving an in-store promotion, bought its product.

The company claims that it costs about $150 per store to enable its technology.


The new generation of innovative sound-based technologies isn't all about data transfer. One company is using ultrasonics as a new kind of user interface.

A U.K. company called Ultrahaptics can add the sensation of touch to virtual objects that aren't actually there. It does it with ultrasonic technology.

OK, so imagine a holographic image, or an image superimposed on what you see through augmented reality — or a virtual reality environment.

It's possible to use Ultrahaptics technology to enable you to touch virtual objects and feel what you touch. Let's say you can create a holographic ball made out of light. As your hand gets to the surface of the ball illusion, blasts of sound create something called "acoustic radiation pressure" in midair, and you can feel that pressure. By computer-controlling the vibrations in the air and matching them with the virtual illusion, the technology enables you to feel what you see.

(We'll be hearing more about Ultrahaptics during CES in Las Vegas on Jan. 6.)

But we do have to worry about hackers

As the use of sound as a networking technology grows more common, it becomes more likely that hackers will start using sound to gain unauthorized access to systems.

Symantec's John-Paul Power wrote a piece this month talking about the possibility of hack attacks on air-gapped systems. Air-gapped systems are PCs or networks that are not connected to other networks or to the Internet. It's generally believed that they offer the highest level of security.

Power warns that the way to hack an air-gapped network is to somehow infect at least one of the computers with malware. He mentions the tried-and-true method of somehow getting a legitimate user to infect the system, either knowingly or unknowingly. Once a system is infected, it's possible to use sound to make that system transmit to another computer beyond the air gap.


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