Culture

Finally, you can own a 'Star Trek' communicator for just $99

The Onyx from OnBeep is like a walkie talkie without geographical limitations, making communication possible with anyone, anywhere in the galaxy where there's a data connection.

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The jacket is cooler than a Star Trek uniform, but is Onyx as transformative as a Trekker's communicator? OnBeep

Just weeks after we got to ride a real-world hoverboard for the first time, another bit of iconic Hollywood gadgetry has crossed over from science fiction to science fact, and it's great news for Trekkers.

Startup OnBeep's debut product is Onyx, a Bluetooth-powered team communication tool that offers real-time voice messaging via a cross-platform mobile app that works anywhere your device has a mobile or Wi-Fi data connection. In other words, it's like creating a private communication channel that piggybacks over an Internet connection.

The result is basically a less stylish, real-world version of the "Star Trek" communicator badge. Just push a button and you're talking to your whole team in real time.

Rather than a need to quickly spool up the warp drive to escape from The Dominion at a moment's notice, Onyx was inspired by the experiences of the company's founders as emergency responders.

"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," CEO Jesse Robbins writes in a blog post. "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."

I can tell you from personal experience in the Rocky Mountains backcountry that reliable two-way radios that work over longer distances -- up to maybe 10 or 15 miles -- aren't cheap, either. Onyx, on the other hand, costs just $99 (about £62, AU$115) and isn't limited by geography, so long as there's a data connection available, making those backcountry scenarios (and intergalactic space travel) about the only thing(s) it may not be suitable for.

There is the question of whether a "Star Trek" communicator-style gadget is actually needed in our modern world. Bluetooth headsets continue to struggle to get widespread traction thanks to the cyborg geek aesthetic they tend to conjure, and Google Glass can be an invitation for assault in certain places. I have to remain skeptical that pressing a big doorbell-looking device on your chest to talk to all your friends at once will catch on.

Then again, when the Borg finally arrives, we definitely don't want to end up getting assimilated against our will because it took too long to pull out our phones and coordinate our escape via text message.

See how Onyx works in the launch video below.