‘Star Trek Communicator Startup’ Sets Out to Build a World Powered by Voice



OnBeep, the San Francisco startup that offers wearable hardware reminiscent of the iconic Star Trek Communicator, is no longer called OnBeep. On Wednesday, the company announced it will now be known as Orion.

According to founder Jesse Robbins, the name is a metaphor for the way his company hopes to facilitate real-time voice communication in the modern world. “We wanted a name that reflects loftier ambitions,” Robbins explains, pointing out that he and others have been using the Orion name inside the company for about a year. “We like to say: ‘Everyone is a star in a constellation’…The Orion name reflects that we want people to come together, connect, and collaborate.”

That may seem a bit of a stretch, but his basic point is that the company intends to build all sorts of devices that allow for instant communication among groups of people, including families, friends, and co-workers. The company’s initial product, the Onyx, released late last year, lets you instantly talk to other people in other locations simply by pressing a button on your lapel or collar, and Robbins indicates that the company will eventually expand into other wearable devices or “accessories”—though he does not give specifics. “There will be a lot of others,” he says, “and a lot of other approaches.”

Other companies are exploring their own Communicator-like devices, and Robbins believes that such tools will help lead us to a world where we can use voice not only to communicate with others with greater ease, but also use the spoken word to perform other tasks. As he points out, so many other tools are pushing voice applications into our daily lives—from Apple’s Siri personal assistant to

Amazon’s Echo personal shopper
—and Orion, he says, wants to fit into this world. “Voice is appearing everywhere,” he says. “There are so many points we will have to connect to.”

Certainly, voice apps are on the rise. The question is whether people really want devices like the Onyx, which can be worn on your body, but don’t work unless you’re also carrying a smartphone. The upcoming Apple Watch is trying to navigate the same territory—as are other devices—and it’s unclear just how successful they will be. OnBeep—er, Orion—started shipping its Onyx communicator on December 15, and Robbins indicates that about 2000 have been sold.

Today, he says, family and friends use it to communicate on sky slopes or while they’re running errands or while they’re on road trips.

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