How the Bonx Grip walkie-talkie helps a blind athlete take on the toughest terrain

Since their development during the World War II, walkie-talkies are still preferred over cell phones for group communication – particularly in remote natural areas – but they’re cumbersome, especially for outdoor sports athletes. Enter the evolution of hands-free devices and smart group-talk wearables. Through Bluetooth technology and advanced apps, a new generation of devices and wearables allow group communication by simply pushing a button.

However, taking your hands off equipment to fumble with buttons can be inconvenient and dangerous, particularly for the tenacious outdoor adrenaline junkie. Avid snowboarder and Bonx CEO Takahiro Miyasaka recognized this issue during his time on the slopes, contemplated how to improve it, and went straight to work with his team of engineers and designers in Tokyo to develop the voice-activated group-talk system – the Bonx Grip.

Just speak

Founded in 2014, with roots firmly established in Japan, the Bonx Grip is now available in America after another highly successful Indiegogo campaign. And after reading about the Bonx Grip features, it’s clear that Miyasaka and his team truly thought about every detail.

“Like all outdoor athletes, we don’t mess around when it comes to gear and performance,” Miyasaka states. “That’s what sets us apart and creates conversations that never could’ve happened before.”

Bonx’s secret sauce lies in its advanced app and rugged Bluetooth earpiece design. There are no buttons to push – just speak and voila, the earpiece (with dual microphones) picks up your voice, sends the information to the smartphone app via Bluetooth, and the app delivers voice data to your group via cellular network – all in real-time. The app is available for iOS and Android, and supports up to 10 people.

bonx grip helps blind mountain biker navigate hiking

Bonx Grip only uses data when the user is speaking, saving battery life and data usage. The wearable comes in four color choices and also functions as a regular Bluetooth headset to listen to tunes or take phone calls. Another feature that separates Bonx grip from other group-talk wearables is its multi-layered wind noise reduction system allowing even the most hard-core athletes to communicate in extreme conditions. Shock and water-resistant, Bonx Grip can handle ski conditions, muddy cycling adventures, and serious climbing excursions.

Transforming lives

According to Miyasaka, “It [Bonx Grip] was built for the way athletes talk, where they go, and the performance they need.” But for blind athlete Bobby McMullen, an avid mountain biker with an unbelievable resume in sports competition, Bonx is more than just a new sports tech gadget; it’s a game changer.

McMullen has survived diabetes, loss of his vision, kidney failure, two transplants, open-heart surgery, and has battled cancer. Despite these incredible challenges, Bobby lives life without abandon. From competing in the Paralympics (1998) in Nagano, Japan to tackling the Megavalanche, one of the most extreme mountain bike races in the world, McMullen has broken barriers and bones, proving to the world that a physical disability will never stop an athlete’s purpose and dream.

Bonx Grip only uses data when the user is speaking, saving battery life and data usage.

Today, Bobby still competes and shreds the trails relying on “rider guides” who assisted him by calling out drops, turns, and obstacles. This method of “guide-follow” (similar to that used in skiing) is challenging and often results in back-and-forth shouting matches between McMullen and his guide. Then a friend introduced Bobby to Bonx Grip and everything changed.

Along with his usual guide, McMullen now uses the new outdoor sports group-talk wearable. He states, “Each piece of equipment I choose adds to my ability to ride. Adding Bonx to my team, added a whole different level of a performance piece that allows me and my guide to communicate intimately in a conversation verses me taking in peripheral noises or shouting matches that often occur.”

Through advanced voice activity detection, Bonx Grip constantly learns and adapts to its sound environment and distinguishes between nearby voices and ambient ones. This technology is paramount for the safety of all outdoor athletes, especially those who are visually impaired and rely on the voice and direction of guides. According to McMullen, “It’s a performance piece changing the way visually impaired athletes navigate their world.”

The Bonx Grip has been successfully distributed in Japan and after its recent U.S. crowdfunding campaign, it’s currently being shipped nationwide to an outdoor adventurer near you. Eventually, the company plans to take the wearable global and is considering collaborations with other companies to further develop its features. It retails for $139.