back to article Data-by-audio whizzes Chirp palmed £100k to keep working with EDF

Data-over-sound chaps Chirp and energy company EDF have been given £100,000 in funding by the UK government to advance their trials in sound-based sensors for nuclear power stations. Chirp has been around since 2011, when it was born from research at UCL. It launched its image, link and text-sending app for consumers in 2012, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isnt this how a ZX81 (BBC B and dare say other machines of the era) loaded apps?

    1. Pat Att

      Apps??

      They were programs back then (and still are to me), not apps.

      1. Michael

        Re: Apps??

        No they were programmes back then. They still are to me.

  2. Alan Sharkey

    How?

    It says "far easier in a location where electromagnetic signals are not permitted ". But there has to be electromagnetic signals to power the speaker at the source - and a mike at the other end.

    So how does that work?

    Alan

    1. }{amis}{ Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: How?

      You can ram a sensor transmitter and battery into a small faraday cage and it will still send data with no em emissions outside of the cage.

      A small rig like that will happy run off a battery for years at a time these days.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How?

      Drumskins and listening tubes?

    3. Orv Silver badge

      Re: How?

      From context I think they mean intentionally-transmitted electromagnetic signals -- radio waves, in other words.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: How?

        "From context I think they mean intentionally-transmitted electromagnetic signals -- radio waves, in other words."

        I'm sure you're right. But there are other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum: I'm looking at one now.

    4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: How?

      So how does that work?

      Piezo-electric transducers? No radiated/received EM, which I would guess is the concern.

    5. 2Nick3 Bronze badge

      Re: How?

      The second link in the article itself goes back to the original story ElReg had on this, which explains it in more detail. Copying the link here for easier access:

      https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/01/24/chirp_nuclear_power_station_iot_audio_sensors/

      Quite innovative, really, for the use case.

  3. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

    Isn't "data over audio" a synonym for ...

    ... for "modem". MOdulator/DEModulator?

    (Notably the "acoustic coupler" type...)

    (Yes, folks, I'm an old fart.)

    1. John 78

      Re: Isn't "data over audio" a synonym for ...

      Exactly, why is our govenment giving them £100K to string a couple of modems together.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given we have "EDF project manager Dave Stanley" and "Chirp's equipment uses sound to send signals" any chance of it ending up with

    "Computer, shutdown the reactor to prevent meltdown"

    "Sorry Dave, I can't do that"

  5. Lee D Silver badge

    I'm more worried that they are happier to deploy some proprietary data-transfer algorithm over an unknown and unreliable medium...

    Than if they, say, had properly isolated and protocol-specified networks (i.e. don't talk TCP/IP to sensors... get them to talk a very, very, very limited protocol which literally can only send back a temperature and nothing else) over any medium you like.

    Hell, optical isolation would seem to be best, not sound-based. But what matters is not just joining everything to IP networks but having limited, purpose-built interfaces over whatever media... like trying to talk serial over a serial cable isn't compromisable by IP alone unless you have an IP->serial gateway somewhere.

    Try not building nuclear reactors that are just bog-standard SCADA systems connecting everything to the net over the same cables, and then you don't need to worry about fancy new locked-in reinventions of the ZX Spectrum tape-loading routines.

    1. }{amis}{ Silver badge
      Coat

      Location Location Location

      Have you ever been in the guts of a large industrial complex?? they end up looking like a massive knotted bed of foot wide steel snakes meany of which are heated to high temperature.

      This chirp system my be propriety but it looks to a be a buy the source code deal so even if they go under the libraries will still compile.

      Anything that allows the industrial designer to reduce cabling will be welcome in industry, and unlike anything that depends on line of sight or radio ultrasonic s are not bothered about that much metal.

      1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

        Re: Location Location Location

        Ditto a nuclear reactor, especially one stuffed in a submarine which is my use case. That's going to come down to how it works in a run silent scenario. [And in damage control.] Interesting in that it proves that the idea is to get energy from point A to point B, which spectums are to hand.

  6. SVV Silver badge

    Data over sound

    "FRED! TURN THE BUGGER DOWN, IT'S GETTING A BIT MELTY IN HERE!"

  7. David Pearce

    Security by obscurity again.

    Now have a hijacked smartphone in acoustic range, eavesdropping or sending fake messages

    1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

      Certainly not to this engineer. I have used audio coupler modems in past. Hell I could tell you the connect speed simply by listening to the connection hand shaking and that's all the way up to 56K baud, which maximum was less than that. Submarines have similar gear to converse with each other and surface ships. It's called Gertrude. Sounds in water are a useful, if perhaps seldom used communications medium.

  8. ThatOne Silver badge
    Coat

    Data-over-sound chaps Chirp and energy company EDF have been given £100,000 in funding by the UK government to advance their trials of having technicians shout information to each other over long distances.

    Hey what, it's data over audio, high tech stuff, really.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Solution: long, electrically-conductive materials...

    As a measurement specialist at a manufacturing facility in a highly-regulated industry, I can tell you that there's a really obvious solution - send signals using long, electrically conductive materials (typically copper) covered in insulation. Commonly called "wires". 4-20 mA is a recognized signalling standard for good reason - it can't be wirelessly tapped/hacked, doesn't lose accuracy even over considerable distance, has built-in failsafe (broken wire = 0 mA = -25% of range), and is reasonably resistant to interference. Yes, running cable for a new sensor is a pain, but it's solid, reliable, and doesn't need a brand new, not-yet-field-tested technology to operate.

    And plants of any kind are often LOUD, over significant frequency bands. (Especially the hard-to-reach areas.) Unless these things are putting out 100 dB of sound, they're probably not going to be heard over any significant distance. And they still have to be powered - so run 24V power to them, and have them throttle the current they use as a way of sending a reading. You know, like standard 4-20 mA signals. Or, if you need more data and control, try HART communications - using the exact same wiring.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a little Fibre every day keeps the blues away

    They could use Fibre

    in any newly build nuclear power plants they probably would use fibre

    so how long will this new development serve the industry?

  11. Eclectic Man

    Interference

    A while ago there was an idea to check that a train was all in one piece (i.e., that none of the carriages had become disconnected) by having each carriage connected to a tube and have a speaker send a continuous tone, monitored at the locomotive. This would be for freight trains. However, the railways were too noisy for this to work properly.

    Plus, I read an article recently about using modified streamed music to send subliminal messages to Alexa or other voice activated devices. This idea seems somewhat fraught with dangers. But then I recall, many years ago getting errant phone calls from fax machines, and listening to them chirping at me trying to establish a connection, so the technology is already mostly/partly there, though there may be a few standards / patents to watch out for.

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