"I drive my wife to the train station everyday. While driving, we listen to the radio. Sometimes the radio says, 'for more information, please access the following URL,' and starts spelling out the entire URL starting with 'www. ' What are they thinking? It's impossible to jog down the entire URL while driving!," says Taka Tsukuma of Fieldsystems, a Japanese mobile content company.
"I wanted to develop something like QR code with sound. I wanted a sound version of QR code," says Tsukuma.
QR code is a two dimensional bar code, that is widely used in Japan. Usually less than a square inch, QR codes can be printed on various surfaces. Advertising pages in magazines, and posters on subway wall sometimes have QR codes printed also. Some business people print QR codes on their business cards prompting people to access their company's' web sites.
Most mobile phones in Japan have cameras equipped, and the cameras double as QR codes readers. You activate the camera and hold the cell phone over a QR code. If the camera successfully recognizes the QR code, the cell phone convert the code into a URL. Then using the cell phone's web browser, you can access the URL's web page. With QR codes you don't have to type in a long URL while typing a long URL can be quite a hassle using cell phone's only ten keys.
Since with QR codes the camera of the cell phone has become an inputting device for the cell phone's web browses, could not the microphone of the cell phone be also an inputting device? All the cell phones are equipped with microphones any way. If a sound has become a convertible code, accessing web can be a much easier task using cell phones, Tsukuma thought to himself.
His company, Fieldsystems is one of the successful cell phone web creators in Japan. Specializing on FLASH technology, the company is well known for user-friendly cell phone web pages. It runs 10 successful cell phone specific web sites under Japan's three major cell phone operators.
After putting some time and effort, Tsukuma and his company developed a technology that converts a text into a sound. They name the technology SoundCode. According to Tsukuma the technology can convert a text message that can be up to 2048 alphabet letters long into a sound. When converted into a sound, a message of 2048 letters is about seven tenths of a second long. Considering most URLs are less than 40 letters long, typical SoundCode can be about one hundreds of a second.
SoundCode itself is audible to human ears. However SoundCode can be hidden between other sounds such as human voices and music. In order to recognize a SoundCode, a special software needed to be installed onto cell phones This special software can recognize a SoundCode as small as minus 30 decibels of surrounding sounds. In other words, you can input a SoundCodes as a very small sound in-between regular conversational voices, and the software can still recognize the small sound as a SoundCode and convert it into a URL.
Although SoundCode is a analog sound, it has many digital sound characteristics, according to Tsukuma. For instance, it is as easy to find the beginning of the SoundCode as an digital sound. SoundCode also has an ability to revise itself just like a digital sound can. Even the cell phone can recognize only broken parts of a SoundCode, by repeating the SoundCode several times the cell phone collects unbroken parts of the SoundCode and combine them into a whole code.
In order to broadcast SoundCode, the broadcast station needs a special encoder software installed onto a personal computer. The process of generating SoundCode is very simple. You type in a URL into the PC, then the software generates a SoundCode. The software also is capable of mapping the SoundCode to hide in between the broadcast sound, so that the listeners don't realize the existence of the SoundCode.
It may be a good idea to announce the airing of the SoundCode, in order to prompt the listeners to activate the software on their cell phones in time.
"I want every cell phone to have a capability of SoundCode someday. For that goal, first I want to develop the decoder software download-able by any cell phones. But in the end, I want SoundCode technology to be embedded onto the cell phone IC chip, " says Tsukuma. "I look forward to the day that every cell phone has a SoundCode hardware button. With one push of the button, the SoundCode decoder and microphone are activated and pick up a SoundCode in the air, and convert it into a URL," says Tsukuma.
There are many possible applications of SoundCode. Broadcasting SoundCode, something that made Tsukuma to develop the technology in the first place, is just one of those possible applications.
You can broadcast SoundCode at shopping malls between background music, said Tsukuma. You can program speakers at a different location within a mall to air a different SoundCode, so that the shopper can download the near-by shops sales information over the cell phone.
SoundCode can be almost inaudible therefore you can broadcast it in quiet places such as museums. Museum goers can access to web pages which explain the near-by displays.
SoundCode can be embedded in TV dramas. If a viewer happen to like what an actress is wearing, by activating the cell phone microphone and receiving a SoundCode, the viewer may access the shopping site that sells that particular dress.
As a matter of the fact, with SoundCode you can send a URL to consumers in any type of environments where there is a speaker.
SoundCode has won a I*deal competition, a mobile business model idea contest sponsored by Mitsui Ventures on January 20, 2009.