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Ultrasonic tech’s poised to provide alternative to NFC

Jun 20, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 11 views

A startup called Naratte has released an ultrasonic alternative to near field communication (NFC) short-range transaction technology for Android and iOS devices. The software-based technology uses a device's microphone and speaker, thereby avoiding the need for a special NFC chip.

While Google prepares to get its Google Wallet mobile payment service based on traditional near field communications (NFC) technology into New York and San Francisco markets this summer, a startup is taking a different tack toward short-range transactions: ultrasonics.

In nature, ultrasonics are used by frogs, dolphins, and other animals to communicate; with Naratte's Zoosh, they are being used to enable secure communications in mobile devices. Zoosh software leverages smartphones' speakers and microphones to enable the same data communications between devices that today's NFC provides, but via ultrasonic frequencies that are inaudible to humans.

Zoosh in operation in a Starbucks transaction

Naratte Co-founder and Chief Development Officer Byron Alsberg told eWEEK that Zoosh uses the phone speaker as a data transmitter to transmit inaudible data over the air to a device's microphone as the data receiver. Zoosh transmissions are encrypted with a unique electronic key. It's ostensibly a software-based acoustic baseband, with proprietary algorithms rolled up in software to power applications.

"If a device has MP3 playback capability, it can Zoosh," said Alsberg.

Naratte has already released software development kits (SDKs) for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, and is now actively promoting the technology. A YouTube demo shown farther below demonstrates point-of-sale (PoS) applications, as well as mobile micropayments via an iPhone and an Android phone (see image at right). Eventually, the company hopes to spread the technology to other mobile platforms, including feature phones, computers, and even TVs.

NFC is a wireless technology that enables short-range communications between devices, such as smartphones and a PoS terminal, equipped with special sensors. Google, the Isis carrier mobile payment initiative, and others are all using NFC in this fashion.

Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") supports NFC, but not just any Gingerbread smartphone can use Google Wallet or other NFC-based services. The phones require a Secure Element chip to enable NFC and store credit card information for the service, as provided by the Samsung Nexus S 4G.

Zoosh's limited hardware requirements should appeal to many device makers. Today's NFC-enabled smartphones require special NFC chips, which are not required by Zoosh.

"When we look at the current technologies out there, they have fallen short in trying to provide this device-to-device technology," Naratte CEO and Co-founder Brett Paulson told eWEEK.

The Android and iOS SDKs are being sold directly to wireless carriers, which could use them to provision Zoosh to thousands of devices over the air, said Paulson. At the retail level, most PoS systems already have audio systems in them, he added. This would enable retailers to install Zoosh, and then plug in a $30 dock that conducts NFC transactions. This would seem to suggest that modifying NFC transaction code for Zoosh would be fairly straightforward.

Zoosh Bluetooth pairing demonstrated

In April, loyalty card provider SparkBase announced that it will use Zoosh to store and manage loyalty cards via smartphones starting in July. Other use cases for Zoosh include purchasing train tickets, goods from vending machines, or virtual currencies, as well as checking in at the local gym. Bluetooth headset pairing is in the works as well.

Naratte, which banked $5 million in funding from unnamed investors, is based in Sunnyvale, Calif. and has 12 employees. The company currently has eight patents pending.

Zoosh demo on YouTube showing payment between an Android smartphone and an iPhone
(Click to play)


Zoosh SDKs are available now for Android and iOS. A little more information about Zoosh may be found at the Naratte website.

Clint Boulton is a writer for eWEEK.

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