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22 February, 2006 - 11:44 By Staff Reporter

From toys to terror for Generics

A technology originally conceived to enable interactive soft toys has been tweaked and sent out into the world with slightly higher aspirations.

A technology originally conceived to enable interactive soft toys has been tweaked and sent out into the world with slightly higher aspirations.

Intrasonics, developed and patented by Cambridge technology developer, Generics has been relaunched as an emergency mass-communication system that allows people to stay in touch in the event of a major catastrophe – man-made or otherwise.

As last summer’s London bombings showed, the mobile phones we rely on day to day can be critically unreliable when they are needed most – in a crisis. The sheer volume of traffic generated in the aftermath of the attacks meant that the mobile network in the affected areas just could not cope.

The technology developed by Generics could enable us to receive and review important messages on our mobile phones via a unique audio messaging system, called Intrasonics Sound Link and Sync (SLS). In the event of an ‘incident,’ when mass communication is vital, it could send messages and instructions direct to mobile phones even when mobile networks are down or out of reach, such as when underground.

SLS, for which Generics has created a spin-out to commercialise, embeds data in audio signals and can transmit over broadcast radio, TV or a public address (PA) system, to send an encoded link via SLS onto mobile phones in the vicinity.

In the event of a major terrorist incident, for example, SLS would send a further code using another audio signal.

This second code activates the first and an icon appears on the mobile screen alerting you that there is a message to collect. By clicking the link through to a remote server, the relevant message is then displayed on the mobile screen in your mobile’s selected language.

Rob Morland, director of intrasonics data communications at Generics said: "Communicating with large groups of the public in the event of a disruptive incident, natural or man-made is highly complex.

"This is especially true if they are using transport that is underground and the mobile networks are either out of reach, disrupted or taken over by the emergency services. Intrasonics works in these instances enabling communication with large numbers of worried people."

"The Intrasonics emergency messaging application could be a relatively easy and low-cost way to put something in the hands of the public that would significantly help them and the authorities in the event of an incident. The peace of mind element for people knowing they have access to the messages would also bring benefits during times of heightened tension," he continued.

The base technology allows data to be hidden within any audio stream. This means that the data can be stored or transmitted over broadcast radio, TV or even a PA without any modification to the system.

The data travels acoustically through the air from a standard loudspeaker and is picked up by the standard microphone of a compatible mobile phone, where it is decoded by a downloadable software program.

The emergency messaging system has been prototyped and fully tested in the Far East.

One of the earliest applications targeted for the technology was the development of toys that could ‘interact’ with TV programmes by responding to the messages ‘hidden’ in the TV broadcast, but the list of possible uses has now widened considerably.

Morland said: "The messages Intrasonics can deliver could be varied for different locations and different times of day, and could be available in a number of languages, automatically selected by the language setting of the handset. In future, with e-ticketing where the mobile handset knows the user's journey, for example, advance messages could be specific to the exact route the person will be travelling."

The company is also examining other applications where small amounts of data need to be sent over an existing broadcast or recording system. It can be used to provide links relevant to the audio material, for example giving access to a website related to a TV advert, or facilitating ‘one touch’ interaction with a TV show.

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