Secret startup OnBeep aims to fill push-to-talk void

Walkie Talkie

OnBeep , the stealthy startup launched by Opscode founder Jesse Robbins, is intentionally vague about what it’s up to, but some details are starting to emerge. The San Francisco company is working to combine wearables, bluetooth technology and smartphones to offer the sort of push-to-talk (PTT) capabilities provided by specialized radio devices often used by first responders, sources said. I would be willing to bet, however, that the walkie-talkie-like PTT capabilities will be one part of a multi-channel device, but I have no confirmation of that.

All the company itself is saying on its web site (and via various Twitter feeds) is that it’s focusing on “communications” technology  and is in the market for both iOS and Android development talent. Oh, and as of August, it had $445,000 in early funding, according to Mattermark.

One of Robbins’ co-founders is Greg Albrecht, who according to LinkedIN, is a “former senior engineer at Splunk;  founding funder at Noisebridge. EMT. Disaster Worker. Ham.” (Presumably as in ham radio aficianado.)

The third co-founder is Roger Wood, is chairman of Art+Data, and in a past life was a product manager and engineering program manager at Motorola’s  iDEN Group and worked at Nextel. Other team members include hardware engineer Neil Girling as well as product engineers from Apple, Lab126 and Meyer Sound.

This is an interesting combination of talent — Robbins has experience in big-scale infrastructure — he was a program manager at Amazon before Opscode;  to configuration management devops know-how while others at the company appear to be experts in PTT devices and user experience design.

OnBeep may be attempting to fill the void left when Sprint shut down its iDEN network last summer. As Gigaom’s resident expert Kevin Fitchard told me, there are commercial alternatives to that PTT network but none really work as well as it did. If OnBeep could replicate the quality and reliability of iDEN in an app, it could address a potentially huge market army of blue-collar workers. It’s worth noting that Sprint shuttered iDEN not because it didn’t work but because it was expensive to keep running an ancient nationwide network for the sake of what Sprint saw as a niche service.

Robbins, who had no comment other than to reiterate that OnBeep is working on communications,  is a volunteer firefighter. Firefighters and EMTs are the sort of first responders who — along with a wide array of factory floor and other workers — often use walkie-talkie type or PTT devices.

So this is a start anyway. I’m looking forward to hearing more details from Robbins on OnBeep later this year.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Cher_Nika
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