The tag challenge did remind me something which always baffles me on "Star Wars" franchise: Why on Tatooine would intelligent androids use beeping for communication?

So I call you, fellow Worldbuilders to help me create more plausible Star Wars droid:

What language would droids use to communicate with each other?

Except usual Star Wars universe please accept these assumptions

  • The droids are created on many planets
  • Android creation is relatively easy. Even 9 year old kid can build a droid
  • The droids are compatible to some extent with regular ports (especially these used by Imperium on Death Star)
  • However, you cannot connect "port to port" if you are in hurry
  • Any droid can produce any sound which is inside human audible spectrum
  • However, that's their only way of "ranged" communication. They do not have radios or lasers (except when equipped with blasters) and cannot produce "sound" outside audible spectrum
  • A droid will meet other droids regularly and need to interact with them

The androids are "general purpose AI" by our standards and are able to learn in same (or faster) pace as normal kid. Also, it is safe to assume that just built android comes up with standard OS (Android, probably? Pun intended) preinstalled.

While droids can communicate with their masters, I think that to communicate amongst themselves, they would eventually come up with some language. But would that be beeping?

Thanks for help and if you feel giving this question better title, feel free to do so

EDIT: After first two comments, just for clarity: I am not asking why is R2D2 beeping. I am asking if any Star Wars android would beep given assumptions above

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    $\begingroup$ As an aisde, one of the more popular theories as to why the astro-droids beep is that they work in a rather hostile enviornment (on the wing of a ship under fire), and many have a personality to go along with that environment. The theory is that astro-droids actually have a terribly foul mouth, and that C-3PO is actually doing his darndest to try to make R2D2 sound civil. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon - That is AFAIK a non-canon retcon. I think the accepted canon reason is that R2D2's primary mission is repair; he's an astro-droid built to work more closely with a host ship's main computer than with humans, so the primary requirement is an efficient computer-to-computer language that is audible over a commlink. The language was designed so humans can discern the droid's basic status without a translator, but the X-Wing (and I'd assume other ships) have translator units allowing more precise readouts of an astro-droid's communications. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty sure C3PO was fluent in over six million forms of communication. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Pavel I changed the question to be "with each other" you can use "themselves" if you write "among themselves", otherwise it means communication only with oneself. I assume I got your meaning correct. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ this is my opinion the droids use sound to communicate and the range of freq is sometime falls within our hearing range. e.g my dog can pick up certain sound like my mom nagging at me but I cannot hear it :) $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:58

4 Answers 4


Remember dialup?

enter image description hereSource

If the droids can only communicate with each other verbally, that is, with vibration in atmosphere within the human audible range (pretty speciest if you ask the Wookies), then they'll use highly complex words. Something similar to those tones your modem played when connecting to the internet or fax machines.

These words will be composed of modulated data on a wide range of audible frequencies simultaneously. The best way to imagine this is listening to someone with a very low voice and someone with a very high voice speak at the same time. The android is capable of filtering the incoming audio based on frequency and then demodulate them.

There has actually been work on this. Even work trying to make it sounds nice by playing with the modulation parameters. This paper reports on some audible communication reaching maximum rates of 3.4 Kbps using FSK (frequency shift keying) for a single carrier, which they improved in a few ways, even human perception of it:

The novel idea in our work is to study how music and other pleasant sounds can emerge in the audible band by carefully choosing some parameters of the modulation. By doing so, we surpass the low data rates imposed by imperceptibility while preserving the property of using messages that are tolerable to humans

By using ASK (amplitude shift keying) and some other fancy tricks they can get up to 10 Kbps on the higher frequency channels. While the droids could feasibly use much better modulation schemes than simple FSK or ASK to get significantly higher data rates per channel, even using this method to transfer data on perhaps ten simultaneous channels, they could likely get well over 75 Kbps. It's probably enough for standard communication.

  • $\begingroup$ You might be able to get such high data rates in an anechoic chamber, but in real world situations, there is likely to be plenty of noise. Try getting 75Kbps on a battlefield, a hangar bay, or an engine room. Try it in a cantina, or on a city street, or in a howling windstorm. The errors introduced would cause so many retries, you would be lucky to get 300bps. $\endgroup$
    – Mohair
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Mohair I strongly disagree. Read the linked paper, it is regarding the use of sound to transmit data in real world situations, not an anechoic chamber. The androids only make noise in the audible band, but they would sample at much much higher rates, allowing the filtering of most of the effects you're describing. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ The paper says "The theoretical data rates of these modulations in the audible band are low, indicating, to no surprise, that the audible sound in air is a poor choice for transferring large amounts of data from device to device. Nevertheless, we envision several applications that can work within the range of 100 to 1000 bps, as long as the messages are not intrusive." I did find it amusing that they mentioned the 5-note sequence from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."! $\endgroup$
    – Mohair
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Mohair Yes, 100 bps to 1 kbps in a real world situation on a single carrier and still sounding pleasant to humans. Using multiple simultaneous channels and disregarding the intrusiveness to humans, much higher data rates would easily be achieved. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ "Remember dial-up?" unfortunately yes. $\endgroup$
    – ryanyuyu
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 23:17

I don't think this is as tricky as it sounds:

1. Android to Android Communications

They are machines that think at blindingly fast speeds. Expressing their ideas (which might be system data, binary, etc) in a SPOKEN language is ludicrous. That was done simply because it's a movie, and the droids had to be "cute" for the audience.

In most likelihood droids would communicate via wireless transmissions, laser pulses, or some such manner (bluetooth, etc) which has nothing to do with having to "speak". A standard communication protocol would be in effect.

This is basically the internet. Billions of different devices communicating with one another over a vast network.

2. Android to Human

Some droids need to interact with humans, others not so much. That little box on wheels that cleans the floor wouldn't need to speak to anyone, or even be capable of complex thoughts.

C3PO is an ambassador droid, and knows a ridiculous number of languages, as well as being able to communicate with other droids.

R2D2 doesn't really need to "speak" to people. He would normally spend most of his time plugged into a space craft - outside the cockpit. No one could hear him speak, even if he tried. Thus, he wasn't taught "a language", even though realistically, he should have been able to communicate verbally when on the ground. We can assume that he communicates with the pilots via displaying information on their visors while in flight (targeting data, ship management parameters,etc)

Edit based on new criteria:

I honestly do not think it is reasonable to exclude wireless communications, or laser based communications (not blasters). Advanced technology basically can't exist without wireless, and we see many examples of such communications (interplanetary, across solar systems, etc) in the movies.

As I commented below, the only situation in which a droid might not be able to communicate wirelessly would be that it is damaged, or restricted from doing so due to situational (battlefield) conditions. At that point laser based communications would be critical.

Excluding even laser communications, however, beeping might make sense. A fast-forwarded binary type of communication based on "long" and "short" (on their scale, not for human ears) beeps. It would be horribly inefficient, and painful for any human listening to them, however.

  • $\begingroup$ Ouch, forgot to mention. I wanted to exclude wireless from the scope. Sorry. Going to edit the question $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ There's no realistic reason why the droids would not communicate wirelessly, unless damaged, or due to battlefield conditions (jamming, etc) In that case it would definitely come down to line of sight laser pulses, and speech only as a last resort (in which beeping might make sense, in a sort of rapid-fire binary type of communication, but it would be HORRIBLY inefficient) $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ It seems absurd that you could build a droid that is somewhat self-sufficient and contains even a rudimentary AI, but the only way it can communicate with other droids is via sound. That is just about the worst possible means of communication between machines. Maybe deciphering sign language or semaphores is worse, but not by much. It's a crippling restriction. $\endgroup$
    – Mohair
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ It would be easy to pass a law regulating RF transmissions sufficiently to make them useless. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Agreed, the Federation's version of the FCC could ban wireless communication between droids. It could be related to the banning of droids for combat. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 23:08

"D" Latch, common and encrypted digital, and modulated with analog over vast areas. Your holographs were good, your voice communications were pitched with spikes, and Johnson's WHITE noise, and the glitches were shoddy at best, even STAR-WARS had that favor. :)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hi. Welcome to Worldbuilding! We usually prefer to have longer answers with a more explicit connection to the question. As stands, this reads more like a quip than an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Brythan
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 2:40

Sound can be a useful way of transmitting data.
We've been using modulated sound waves to send data down telephone lines for a while now via modems.
The problem with sound is how quickly it can be modulated and still have the pattern recognizable. You could improve this by not using a base 2 binary signal, and instead use overlapping wave patterns to transmit a higher base system.
There is also the problem of loud environments, but certain frequencies of sound would be able to cut though that with little trouble.

There are a few companies out there playing with the idea of transmitting data with sound, and I've heard of a computer virus that spreads with sound to infect airgapped computers.

Radio is superior to sound in almost every way:
* It's longer range
* It works through walls
* It's harder to jam
* It works in loud environments
* It's faster to modulate, meaning you can send more data quicker

But in the absence of radio it wouldn't be to bad, and could realistically be used for simple command communication, which is what a droid to droid conversation would most likely be about, unless you have a droid file sharing network...

So interesting article I read about data transmission through visible light, called LiFi. The tl;dr version is that with distances of about 3 meters you can get data transmission speeds of up to 224 Gbps, which is an order of magnitude faster than WiFi. Their real world examples transferred a 1GB movie in 1 second. One other possible advantage of this over WiFi is that it could be directional, and so a little more private.

So that little blinky light on R2? High speed inter-droid communication.


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