Star Trek’s futuristic vision of talking with friends through a small communicator badge on your jacket is about to become a reality, according to a startup in San Francisco.
The Onyx is small button with a speaker that clips to clothing and connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone with a data connection.
Pressing the button connects directly to other Onyx units in a pre-defined group allowing hands-free real-time communication anywhere with an internet connection, either via a built-in speaker or a pair of headphones.
Jesse Robbins, chief executive and founder of OnBeep, said a blog post that Onyx would “enhance the way people communicate, delivering effortless, group collaboration, using the power of your voice”.
Robbins and co-founder Greg Albrecht are both volunteers for emergency services in the US and came up with the idea while out attending an emergency situation.
‘Communicate with the rest of the team without losing focus’
“During an incident, an emergency responder needs to be able to communicate with the rest of the team without losing focus. The last thing you want is to have your attention pulled away from the scene in an emergency,” explained Robbins. “To make that possible, we rely on two-way radios. They’re bulky, ungainly and cumbersome, but they’re reliable — and that’s what matters when you’re working in life-or-death situations.”
OnBeep claims to provide instant, one-touch communication without the bulk of a radio or walkie-talkie, using the global network of smartphones as its backbone.
Other Bluetooth devices have allowed people to talk hands-free for years, normally attached to the ear, while push-to-talk functions that turn mobile phones into unlimited range walkie-talkies have been popular in the US since the 1990s. But none have offered the ability to manage groups of users across different networks and locations without having to purchase special mobile phone contracts.
The small round button is 60mm in diameter, weighs 46g and attaches to bags and clothing with a clip. A smartphone app for Android and iPhone allows users to manage groups and share locations in real-time.
Onyx has been in development for the last year, the product of a startup group of 24 designers, engineers and artists, and is available for pre-order for $99 (£62) in the US, shipping before Christmas. Now’s your chance to live the Star Trek dream and issue the command “three to beam up”.
This article was written by Samuel Gibbs, for theguardian.com on Thursday 6th November 2014 12.47 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010