Startup OnBeep promises push-to-talk wearable device by year-end

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Startup OnBeep plans to launch a wearable product late this year that uses push-to-talk technology but can be paired with a smartphone to work across any network technology. The purpose of the product, which does not yet have a name, will be to enable hands-free, real-time group communication, according to CEO Jesse Robbins.

The gadget will be rolled out by the end of the year but Robbins would not say how much it will cost. It will be paired to smartphones via Bluetooth and will not have built-in cellular connectivity. Instead, users will be able to manage their calling groups via an app that will work for Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iOS platforms.

OnBeep has now secured $6.25 million in Series A funding from Gil Penchina on AngelList and other investors including Matt Mullenweg, Jeremy LaTrasse, Jonathan Heiliger, Fuel Capital and others. The company now has around 20 employees, Robbins said.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Robbins said that the device is in alpha testing right now and will eventually be sold directly to consumers online, and not through carrier stores initially.

He described the device itself is as a badge or a broach that can be worn on clothing or clipped to bags and purses. Robbins said it will be made of "a high-quality plastic with a nice finish on it."  A user would push a button on the device and then automatically be connected to pre-defined calling groups that can be changed via the app. Robbins said the company is "focused on building a heads up, connected, real-time system for collaboration and getting things done in the world that explicitly doesn't have you tied to looking at a screen."

Before starting OnBeep in 2013, Robbins cofounded Chef, a company that does automation for large network infrastructure systems and counts Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) as a client. Robbins is also a volunteer firefighter, which he said informed his desire to move on to OnBeep. Another cofounder, Greg Albrecht, worked as a former senior engineer at Splunk as well as an emergency medical technician and disaster worker. Yet another cofounder, Roger Wood, is also chairman of Art+Data and worked at Motorola's iDEN Group and Nextel Communications in its pre-Sprint (NYSE:S) days.

Robbins said the craze in the mobile industry right now around smart watches reveals that there is very little focus being put on products that have specific purposes. "We want to do this one thing extraordinarily well, and connect it to an app and a communication platform that lets people work in groups differently than messaging and OTT apps," he said.

Robbins also noted that most phones that have group push-to-talk capabilities are not huge hits with consumers, and one of the key advantages of OnBeep's product is that it will work across numerous smartphones. It will also save people time from having to pull devices out of their pockets, he said. The device's battery is designed to last as long as a typical cell phone charge and actually saves battery life on the phone because it cuts down on people turning on their phone screens, Robbins said.

The product will be "there when you need it and not in your way when you don't," he said.

OnBeep hopes to target its device to markets such as event coordination and public safety. It could also be used for ordinary tasks like coordinating a surprise party among multiple people or keeping track of different groups of parents with kids at a zoo, Robbins said.

Robbins said that OnBeep's product could eventually be integrated with smart watches so that the watches could be used to manage calling groups. However, he said that "smart watches are great, general purpose devices but they are not particularly good for being heads up." Robbins said the customers who OnBeep is targeting "don't want another piece of technology in their way. They want a piece of technology that lets them look up and get great things done in the world."

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