Mobile phones are great, but they're not ideal for every communications needs. When you're skiing down a mountain, the last thing you want to do is carve to a stop, dig around your triple-layer winterwear for your phone, and answer just to hear your buddy tell you he's waiting in the lodge – which is where you were skiing down to to meet him. The AWIRE wearable two-way radio promises to deliver that type of conversation in mere seconds so you can get on with your life. It also pairs with your smartphone to route calls and music directly to your ears.
Cell phones might be the most ubiquitous form of person-to-person communications, but two-way radios are still preferred for many activities, from work to recreation. For these situations, radios are quicker, simpler and more reliable than cell phones.
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Calgary-based AWIRE Technology, LLC rolls the advantages of the two-way radio into an even more convenient, wearable package. Instead of having to stuff a bulky radio chassis complete with antenna into your pocket, you simply clip the AWIRE module onto your collar, plug your headphones in and let the 1W FRS/GMRS radio keep you in touch with friends within a 2-mile (3.2-km) line-of-sight radius. Like other radios, you can communicate at the push of a button.
The two-way radio functionality sets the AWIRE apart from cellular/cloud-dependent wearables like Bluetooth earpieces and the Orion (formerly OnBeep) Onyx introduced last year, but the AWIRE also offers similar Bluetooth 4.1 functionality. You can pair it with your smartphone, then play music and receive calls without ever digging your phone out of your pocket. The music pauses when you push to talk, so you can quickly communicate without having to fumble around with controls.
The 2 x 3 x .5-in (5 x 7.6 x 1.3-cm), 1.4-oz (40-g) AWIRE package includes an internal antenna, microphone, LED status indicator, radio module and rechargeable 500-mAh lithium-polymer battery. It doesn't have a built-in speaker, so you'll need to plug headphones into the 3.5-mm jack for audio. Battery life is listed at five hours, with charge time taking about 30 minutes from the microUSB port. The AWIRE automatically turns on and off when you plug/unplug headphones.
While the AWIRE definitely looks smoother for active use than a smartphone or handheld two-way radio, it's not without some pitfalls. Tapping a button on your collar is a big step up from pulling a radio or phone out of your pocket, but it isn't ideal for some of the very activities that AWIRE highlights in its own promo video. If you're careening downhill on a mountain bike, you don't necessarily want to pull a hand off the grips to let your buddy know you're going left at the upcoming trail fork. If you have to stop to use the AWIRE, you might as well use a handheld radio – or just communicate face to face. AWIRE mentions that it's investigating a possible handlebar-mounted trigger and other accessories for future release.
Another aspect of the design that some may find troublesome is the reliance on an accompanying app for basic controls. That might be okay for something like microphone sensitivity, which a lot of users will set and forget, but it seems clunky for something as simple as volume, which would be easier to fine-tune on the fly with traditional buttons or dials. On the flip side, the external app controls help keep the hardware slim and light, and prevent user errors like accidentally dialing the volume down to zero when you're trying to press the "talk" button ... so we suppose there's some give and take there.
AWIRE has reached the point at which it's resting its future on the hope that its idea is popular enough to raise the funding it needs to pursue production. It is trying to raise CAD$125,000 on Kickstarter for tooling and materials costs. Toward that end, it is offering the device for pledge levels of CAD$125 (US$100) and up, and hopes to begin shipping by September. It has raised just over CAD$9,000 with 23 days left to go.
Source: AWIRE TechnologyView gallery - 7 images