The Stack Archive

Handheld device lets humans ‘speak’ firefly

Wed 13 Apr 2016

The Firefly Communicator, a fob-sized handheld device, was created to allow humans to mimic the light-coded conversations of fireflies. By pushing a single button on the fob, users can emit stored patterns of pulsing light created to copy actual firefly signals.

Fireflies communicate using bioluminescence, a chemical process that triggers flashing light in the insect’s abdomen based on the amount of oxygen the firefly releases. This form of communication allows the fireflies to identify potential mates, as well as warn predators of their awful taste. The Firefly Communicator emulates that flashing light, working with two built-in LEDs that produce customizable patterns of light that vary in intensity and duration.

The light patterns are available at speakfirefly.com or on a SpeakFirefly smartphone app that downloads patterns directly to the communicator device. With over 200 known species of fireflies each with different communication patterns, new patterns will continue to become available as those patterns are decoded. Users can also experiment and create their own light patterns and save them to the device.

Joey Stein, the creator of the Firefly Communicator, said that the communicator “combats Nature Deficit Disorder by introducing people back into the adventure and wondrous world of fireflies.” He also believes that observing fireflies offer a great connection to nature for young and old. “Fireflies are ambassadors for interest in the biological sciences. For many children around the world, catching fireflies is part of growing up. This first moment of observation is precious. For many of us, it’s one of the first times we can appreciate another creature on our planet who is so much different than us. Who are these creatures and why they are out flashing on summer evenings? Fireflies ignite this spark of appreciation and curiosity in us. This is the seed of scientific inquiry.”

The Firefly Communicator is a current Kickstarter project, with over $14,000 raised to date. A $20 pledge gets you ‘I Speak Firefly’ gear; $30 or more is considered a pre-order for the Firefly Communicator device. The Firefly Communicator has a pre-order delivery date of July 2016.

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