Wearable walkie-talkie keeps groups connected during adrenaline sports

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It's easy to see how Bonx's voice-activated system is superior for sports like rock climbing

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Reaching into your pocket to answer the phone just isn't an option when you're charging down a snow-covered mountain or white-knuckling a set of mountain bike grips. That's why action sport communications wearables like AWIRE have popped up. The all-new Bonx is another alternative, riding right on your ear and working with an accompanying app to streamline communications in the field, on the water, in the snow, and wherever else you and your buddies play.

Founded by Takahiro Miyasaka, an entrepreneur and avid snowboarder, Bonx aims to keep groups of skiers, snowboarders, bikers and others better connected than a smartphone alone can do. To do so, the company has developed the outdoor-specific Grip Bluetooth headset and accompanying group-talk app.

The app lets you set up groups of up to 10 people and automatically finds local users. Once you have your group set up, you remain in constant contact anywhere you have cellular reception.

The Grip headset isn't so much a push-to-talk device as it is "talk to talk." Simply start talking and the headset's dual microphones pick it up and relay it to the app, where it's sent out to your group over a cellular connection. So the Bonx works like an always-ready wearable VoIP walkie-talkie, allowing you to talk even if your hands are too busy to be bothered pushing a button.

Bonx claims its purpose-designed system works better in outdoor environments than other VoIP apps and Bluetooth headsets, offering a solid, robust connection that keeps you in touch with your group so long as there's cell coverage around. The dual-microphone design and "multi-layered wind-noise reduction" tech are aimed at cancelling out background noise while zeroing in on the person talking, something that will be important in the stormy environs common in outdoor sport. The design includes a voice assistant that notifies the wearer of network loss and when mute is activated.

The 15 g (0.5 oz) headset is open-backed, allowing you to hear noises within your immediate environment. It has large mute and volume buttons for easy adjustment. It's designed to stay in place for long days in the field, even during crashes, and is water- and shock-resistant.

The obvious shortcoming of the Bonx design is that it relies solely on cellular coverage, something folks won't have in a lot of places where they ski, climb, bike, paddle, etc. In fact, depending on where you do those types of things, the Bonx might prove completely useless.

The aforementioned AWIRE unshackles you from the cellular grid using radio communications, just like traditional walkie-talkies. Bonx talks up the range advantages of cellular, since radio has a limited range, but it seems more likely that outdoor users would wander outside of cellular range than wander more than 2 miles (3.2 km) away from their friends (max range of the AWIRE).

We like Bonx's completely hands-free, voice-activated interface better than AWIRE's push-button design, and it's easy to see why it's advantageous when seeing it in action. We think Bonx should add a radio chip ASAP, though, even if it means developing a separate model.

Bonx held a successful US$200K crowdfunding campaign last year in Japan, delivering the first headsets to backers in late 2015/early 2016. It is now hoping to ride the crowdfunding wave to a more global launch.

The Bonx Grip is available for Indiegogo pledge levels starting at $78 for a single or $150 for a two-Grip package, representing significant savings off the estimated $139-per-headset retail pricing. If the $100K campaign is successful, and everything goes as Bonx plans from there, the first units will go out in November. The campaign is over a third of the way to the goal with about a month left to go.

The video below provides a closer look and shows the Bonx system in action during several types of sports.

Sources: BONX, Indiegogo

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